Home Gateway Tunnel Can the White House jumpstart the Gateway Tunnel?

Can the White House jumpstart the Gateway Tunnel?

by Benjamin Kabak

The Gateway Tunnel could benefit from a White House push to spend billions on high speed rail.

One day after Amtrak and New Jersey’s Senate delegation introduced the Gateway Tunnel, Vice President Joe Biden announced a major six-year, $53-billion investment in high speed rail. Speaking in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station earlier today, Biden discussed how high-speed rail will help attain President Obama’s goal of winning the future, and while House Republicans who control the purse strings are somewhat skeptical of the reach of the plan, the money could help get the Gateway Tunnel off the ground.

“As President Obama said in his State of the Union, there are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation – one of which is infrastructure,” the vice president said. “As a long time Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced. This plan will help us to do that, while also increasing access to convenient high speed rail for more Americans.”

The White House has yet to lay out the specific investments, but it will look to spend in three key areas outlined in its press release. Those include:

  • Core Express: These corridors will form the backbone of the national high-speed rail system, with electrified trains traveling on dedicated tracks at speeds of 125-250 mph or higher.
  • Regional: Crucial regional corridors with train speeds of 90-125 mph will see increases in trips and reductions in travel times, laying the foundation for future high-speed service.
  • Emerging: Trains traveling at up to 90 mph will provide travelers in emerging rail corridors with access to the larger national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, absent from yesterday’s Gateway presser, joined Biden at the podium today. “In America, we pride ourselves on dreaming big and building big,” he said. “This historic investment in America’s high-speed rail network keeps us on track toward economic opportunity and competitiveness in the 21st century. It’s an investment in tomorrow that will create manufacturing, construction, and operations jobs today.”

House Republicans though were quick to raise an eyebrow toward this ambitious plan. John L. Mica, the House Transportation Committee Chair from Florida, is a supporter of high-speed rail, but he prefers to see a targeted investment in the northeast corridor. Selfishly, I’m not opposed to that, but Mica’s rhetoric is a bit over the top. Despite the committee leadership’s best wishes, private investment will likely not lead to a viable high-speed rail network in the northeast or elsewhere.

“This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio,” he said said in a statement. “With the first $10.5 billion in Administration rail grants, we found that 1) the Federal Railroad Administration is neither a capable grant agency, nor should it be involved in the selection of projects, 2) what the Administration touted as high-speed rail ended up as embarrassing snail-speed trains to nowhere, and 3) Amtrak hijacked 76 of the 78 projects, most of them costly and some already rejected by state agencies.”

He continued: “Amtrak’s Soviet-style train system is not the way to provide modern and efficient passenger rail service. Rather than focusing on the Northeast Corridor, the most congested corridor in the nation and the only corridor owned by the federal government, the Administration continues to squander limited taxpayer dollars on marginal projects.”

But all of this is just a roundabout way for me to reach the question I asked in the headline: If Mica is willing to support high-speed rail in the northeast, if the White House wants to spend $53 billion over six years and if Amtrak has a viable plan to build a second cross-Hudson tunnel, these political forces should align to see the Gateway Tunnel realized. It might not have the same benefits for commuters as ARC did, but it will help ease rail congestion into and out of New York while opening the way for a high-speed Northeast Corridor. It’s a logical step that will require political cooperation.

You may also like


Alon Levy February 8, 2011 - 7:04 pm

Ben, what you call “three areas” is known in the rest of the world as “all intercity rail.” What the FRA euphemistically calls emerging and regional HSR is called low-speed or normal-speed rail in countries that have higher standards than the Acela. Upgraded lines can achieve the Acela’s average speed of about 73 mph with a top speed of 90-100 mph; 100-125 mph trains can average 90 mph and in one case more than 100, overlapping with the lower end of HSR.

Pete February 8, 2011 - 7:11 pm

Im a democrat and I am all for HSR, but I am against this 53 Billion for nationwide HSR. Parts of this country dont want it. We cant force it down there throats and tell them its good for em. If some states want to be backwards and stay 50 years behind the rest of us let them. If they want to use vehicles even when gas hits $300 a barrel let them.

Places like Ohio, Indiana, down south, they do not need it or want it. Putting the money into those states that dont want it (Repubican heavy states) would be a waste of money.

Focus the money to the Northeast Corridor and to Cali. At least Cali & NY use rail and embrace it. Slowly Cali is getting its HSR going. The thing is, they are doing it with initiative. They want it. They are lobbying for it.

Bring all that money into the NE corridor instead of putting it into the midwest where hardly anyone will use it (compared to the usage in the NE) It will end up costing us the taxpayers money to have HSR in low usage areas.

mike February 8, 2011 - 8:08 pm

You touch upon the very Catch-22 of train travel in this country currently.

People in the NE like using trains, however the problem is that they are two slow and there are not enough. Regardless, trains in the NE corridor are very crowded.

Yes, other parts of the country do not have ridership levels that can compete with the NE. Truthfully, they never will. Still though, many people there don’t use trains because there are only 1-2 per day and the total trip time is longer than by car. If train travel were brought to these people, the ridership would follow (hopefully).

Certainly there are parts of the country where people are staunchly opposed to trains and/or the cities are spaced very far apart (Bible Belt, Mississippi area, Rockies). It may not be economical to improve train travel here immediately. I will say this though, aside from the NE corridor and parts of the West Coast, the upper Midwest is very underserved right now. There are many cities that would stand to gain from one high speed line connecting them all (think Minneapolis, Miwaulkee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo/Niagara Falls, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Boston).

Alon Levy February 8, 2011 - 8:39 pm

It all depends on service levels and the ability to contain costs. I’ve seen a serious proposal, by a railfan who knows what he’s talking about, for regional rail in southern Oregon. The same concept could be adapted to places like Jackson, Biloxi, and Knoxville.

mike February 8, 2011 - 9:32 pm

Very true, and I agree with this. I perhaps overstated my case a bit, in support of rail in the Great Lakes area. Other areas would also benefit, though I think the government would have to be more careful (some modeling and number crunching would be required) in regards to the economics in these other areas. Why? Well, largely because the the appropriate track layout is not as obvious to a layperson like me. Great point, Alon.

al February 9, 2011 - 12:29 am

The Great Lakes Area also needs more freight rail capacity. The stretch through Chicago is so bad that freight transhipment through the city from rail yards on opposite sides of Chicago is not unusual. The same takes place in northern Ohio.

Double, triple, quad tracking, and better signals would greatly improve freight and passenger trip times, and on time performance in those areas. I’ll bet if the Obama Administration had sold the Ohio and Wisconsin plans with more emphasis on freight rail, the pro business Republicans would have far fewer reasons to oppose. Obama, Biden or LaHood could set up several press conferences at these freight bottlenecks, and point at the inefficiencies and slow freight train running speeds the investments would had eliminated.

al February 9, 2011 - 12:31 am

The stretch through Chicago is so bad that freight transhipment through the city via truck from rail yards on opposite sides of Chicago is not unusual.

Woody February 10, 2011 - 9:08 am

But if Obama and LaHood had sent more money to untangle the mess in ChicagoLand, the Repub hate machine would have gone into overdrive about how the Chicago gang in the White House was grabbing all the money and ripping off the rest of the country.

Given the insane opposition, methinks the Obama-LaHood team have done as well as they could on this one. Of course, the job is only begun, not finished.

al February 11, 2011 - 12:18 am

That can be countered by touring Republican districts the Upper Great Lakes, and at small businesses around the Northeast Quadrant of continental US. Along the way, they would demonstrating that upgrading freight rail infrastructure is good for business by driving down cost of shipping, and improving delivery reliability, consistency and speed. Get everyone from the SBA to FedEx to US Steel in on it. Republican State Governors, Legislators and local politicos wouldn’t like to appear anti local business and anti local competitive just to spite a democratic president. That would just get them killed in the next election, especially in this economy.

Christopher February 9, 2011 - 10:31 am

My family is from the midwest, Detroit, Minneapolis, and central Iowa. My parents live in Knoxville now. One of the things that’s driving calls for better rail in medium sized cities in the midwest, the northwest and even the Southeast is that the idea that air travel was going to save us all is just not been true. It’s expensive to fly to Knoxville and Des Moines to see family. And with the hub and spoke system. It takes forever. (Ask me sometime about trying to get back to NYC after the Christmas Blizzard where I was stuck in Charlotte for 5 hours unable to get to either home in NY or back to my parents in Knoxville. That’s a fun story.)

John-2 February 8, 2011 - 9:13 pm

Double-tracking the main lines through the more sparsely populated areas of the country would be a major boost to the speed and on-time performance of Amtrak’s existing long-distance rail network without the added cost of a dedicated high-speed rail line, or in the case of the L.A.-Vegas option, taking the direct line away from freight service. The single-track nature of much of the nation’s rail infrastructure outside of the northeast means that passenger service often comes to a dead stop on sidings while freight trains roll by. BNSF has double-tracked almost all of it’s main line paralleling Interstate 40/15 going into Los Angeles, but Union Pacific is lagging on it’s southern route and it’s original transcontinental lne between St. Louis and San Francisco.

HSR funding outside the Northeast corridor gets more votes in Congress, but for less urgently needed lines (if they’re needed at all). Better for the Feds to focus the HSR development on the Washington-Boston zone and help speed the double-tracking of existing lines elsewhere, so Amtrak trains that can run in the 80-90 mph range can actually maintain those speeds for longer periods of time.

BBnet3000 February 8, 2011 - 7:50 pm

“Soviet-style train system” is a bit of hyperbole, but im not sure that it has any real meaning anyhow. Look at what theyve built since: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H....._in_Russia

Nathanael February 10, 2011 - 5:23 am

Mica’s a brainless moron, but then what do you expect from a Republican?

I don’t think he understands that the Soviets had pretty damn good train systems. And he certainly isn’t willing to commit to any real train service. It’s all magic privatization fairies for him.

Donald February 8, 2011 - 9:12 pm

And meanwhile, the fastest train in the world is in a “Soviet style” ountry, China. So I will take the “Soviet style” train any day.

Frank B. February 8, 2011 - 9:30 pm

Hell, if Mica will only support High-Speed Rail for the Northeast Corridor, and considering the Republicans do control the House, I think we should go with it, and thank God we at least can get that.

To be honest, HSR is not all that useful on long-haul trips, except for reducing emissions and being greener. I read recently that China built a line that would be the equivalent of New York to Atlanta, that would get you there in 4 hours, and then I looked up a flight that goes from New York to Atlanta in less than 4 hours. Now I realize it’s going to be longer going through security, but unloading luggage would take about the same time. Short Distance Trips like NY to Boston or Philadelphia or DC would be absolutely ideal for high-speed rail.

As much as I hate flying and love rail, in some situations, honestly, planes are faster.

Mad Park February 9, 2011 - 12:02 am

For many of us, travel is not only about how fast, but also about how comfortable, avoiding the TSA goons, how scenic, etc, etc. So what If I can fly from LGA to ATL in under four hours? I’ll take the train in 6 or 7 hours in comfort any day.

Galls February 9, 2011 - 10:10 am

Avoiding the “TSA Goons” is not a legitimate argument for HSR. The “TSA Goons” are a government imposed cost, whose purpose, once the cockpit doors were bolted shut, has exact parallels to the security risks of HSR.

Once the risk of redirecting an airplane into buildings was removed, HSR is actually a greater security risk because of its fixed infrastructure vulnerability and greater passenger capacity.

Once again, despite how much that idiotic president derides his own security precautions, there are no reason why those same security precautions should not be applied to HSR. Or removed from both.

Mad Park February 9, 2011 - 2:22 pm

The risk of redirecting an airplane into a building has NOT been removed. It has been diverted from the ‘scopers and gropers in airport passenger termini to lax or uninspected airport employees, and to the General Aviation sector who fly unimpeded anywhere they wish. The terrorists HAVE won.

John February 9, 2011 - 4:13 pm

of course, 30 years from now, will you still be able to get that flight? At anything approaching an affordable rate? We can electrify HSR (we’d be foolish to build anything else).

Charley November 1, 2012 - 3:31 am

I don’t think HSR supporters disagree with you here. This is the reason why the Northeast Corridor (Washington – Baltimore – Philly – NYC – Boston) is the discussion. No one has suggested that cities 1,000+ miles a part are viable for high speed rail until we have technology that allows us to travel at speeds of 350-500 mph safely and (relatively) efficiently with few stops.

The NE cities are perfectly distance for this to be a real win, and I wish more federal resources were focused on creating the new Next-Gen HSR system.

As for security – that will definitely come into play whenever HSR becomes a reality. It is valuable infrastructure and, more importantly, trains & train stations carry as many if not more people than the largest airplanes, making them ideal targets for terrorists (i.e. 2005 Madrid bombing). They already have airplane-style security on high speed rail networks in Europe.

Obama’s $53B HSR Announcement, Will Trans-Hudson Capacity Benefit? | Gateway Gab February 8, 2011 - 9:42 pm

[…] Ben Kabak considered this afternoon, the White House Plan may be critical to Gateway, where funding will certainly be […]

Brandi February 8, 2011 - 10:39 pm

It’s good that the conversation about a new cross-Hudson tunnel is starting already since it definitely is going to take 20 years for this thing to ever get built. Now that all the money has been diverted it will be a long time to new money can be allocated. Chris Christie is such a sham. He is already saying he is for this plan if New Jersey doesn’t have to put forth any money for it. He really just wants a free ride. The guy is totally about grandstanding and vote getting. He really doesn’t care about the region or its future. I wouldn’t expect any support to come out of him or Cuomo. Hopefully some extra federal money can come from the new HSR pot if it ever exists. It will be pretty hard just to get back up to the $3 billion New Jersey had. By the way who has that now?

BBnet3000 February 9, 2011 - 1:43 am

What a terrible missed opportunity the stimulus was on the infrastructure front. It would have been at actually creating jobs (and therefore stimulating the economy) if it had been an infrastructure push too.

Yes, i know much of it went to bail out state budgets, but a lot of it didnt.

paulb February 9, 2011 - 10:51 am

ARC, Alt G, 7 train extension, now Gateway. Am I the only one that’s confused?


Leave a Comment