Home Gateway Tunnel Can Sen. Schumer power through the Gateway Tunnel?

Can Sen. Schumer power through the Gateway Tunnel?

by Benjamin Kabak

Six years ago, when the Democrats rode a mid-term election sweep into control of the House and Senate. At the time, Chuck Schumer, New York’s then and current senior senator, pledged infrastructure dollars for New York State, and thus, the Second Ave. Subway — and this site — were born.

Over the past six years, a lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same. We’ve seen megaprojects come and go on and on; we’ve seen the promise of a trans-Hudson rail crossing rise and fall. It’s still a struggle to secure federal (or state) dollars for transit projects, and Schumer is still in the Senate trying to throw his weight around. This time around, he has his eyes on the Gateway Tunnel, an Amtrak project that would be part of a northeast high-speed rail network and could improve train service through New York City.

On Friday, Schumer announced his intentions to push through the Gateway Tunnel with an eye toward a possible groundbreaking as early as 2013. Crain’s New York had more on Schumer’s efforts and how the Hudson Yards development is a motivating factor:

Mr. Schumer said with enough federal funding and all the relevant players on board, the project could break ground as early as the end of 2013. Usually it takes years before work can begin on such a complex, multi-billion dollar effort. “It’s a truly significant project,” Mr. Schumer said at a breakfast forum in midtown Manhattan sponsored by the New York Building Congress. “It’s the kind of big idea that could shape the way New York City looks decades from now.”

Two rail tunnels connect New Jersey and New York, and both are more than 100 years old. The Gateway project was unveiled in February 2011, after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, citing potential cost overruns, killed the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, which was to include a train tunnel under the Hudson. Congress approved an initial $15 million for Gateway in November 2011 and Mr. Schumer said an additional $20 million was close to being secured. The total project is expected to cost $13-$15 billion and will not be completed before 2020.

A new urgency has been brought to the project, Mr. Schumer said, since Amtrak’s engineers determined that the best place to construct Gateway (which would have one tunnel in each direction) was directly under the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s West Side. The Related Companies is expected to break ground on the massive, mixed-use project late this year. Both Related and Long Island Rail Road, the right-of-way property owners underneath Hudson Yards, are supportive of Gateway, he said. “That means we need to build these tunnels now,” the senior senator said. “We can’t wait for the rest of the project to be formulated or nothing will happen.”

There a few items of note happening here. First, Schumer has significant weight in Washington and the ability to push through a project of this magnitude. If the tunnel can be built now and maintained as both an active rail line and a future provision for high-speed rail, then all the better. We need that new rail crossing sooner rather than later.

Second, someone other than a New Jersey representative or politician is finally making noises about a trans-Hudson tunnel. When the ARC Tunnel met its end, New Yorkers were by and large silent. This was New Jersey’s project, and they let New Jersey hash out the fallout. Now, with Amtrak a national — or at least a regional — concern, politicians from both sides of the Hudson can come together to support such a tunnel. It would have been better to pursue such a path originally, but better late than never. Now, we’ll have to see if this tunnel can survive to see the light of day unlike its ARC Tunnel cousin.

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Larry Littlefield October 2, 2012 - 10:08 am

All he has to do is agree to slash aid to the MTA, perhaps killing East Side Access and causing huge declines in the subway, and New Jersey might agree to allow ARC without putting up a dime.

Douglas John Bowen October 2, 2012 - 10:39 am

Not all of us in New Jersey are against MTA, East Side Access, subway service, et al. Many of us who were forced to repudiate ARC find Gateway a bit more promising, a bit more balanced, a bit more functional and utilitarian and beneficial to both side of the Hudson Ocean and their respective occupants. That said, if Mr. Littlefield is suggesting funding is a heavy lift for Sen. Schumer, his observation has much merit.

Alon Levy October 2, 2012 - 10:56 am

It would be great, at one fifth the current cost. At $13 billion? Organisation vor Elektronik vor Beton.

Ian October 10, 2012 - 11:07 am

Sorry, anyone who thinks Gateway is “more promising” or “mor balanced” than ARC simply doesn’t understand what ARC or Gateway actually do.

ARC would have been wholly owned and operated by NJTransit, a tunnel that gave the agency priority and an additional 27 trains an hour. Gateway would be another Amtrak tunnel, meaning NJTransit would still not have priority on scheduling, and because it was a shared tunnel, NJTransit would only have half as many trains.

Gateway was planned for another two decades into the future, and then rushed to fill the void. Two or three decades from now, Gateway would have done a great job of easing congestion from ARC and the existing tunnels built up over thirty years of regional growth. Building it now will barely ease existing congestion and fails to address expansion plans.

Roy October 2, 2012 - 10:45 am

Just so long as he doesn’t try to make the funding conditional on implementing his mad Amtrak “no-ride” list plan.

Eric F October 2, 2012 - 11:24 am

I thought the second avenue subway was facilitated by NY State’s own bond issue?

Schumer has been trying to get the Peace Bridge in the Buffalo area rebuilt for probably ten years. The planned project has been dissolved into a myriad of studies, enviro. red tape and protests as Buffalo fades further into irrelevancy. Schumer has also been associated with the Moynihan station project that is similarly sealer in amber. It would be great if he was actually pressing with efforts in Gateway and actually got something done.

Larry Littlefield October 2, 2012 - 11:56 am

Yep, all New York State borrowing. I think the Feds might have kicked in one-third.

Bolwerk October 2, 2012 - 2:35 pm

Something like that. Schumer is a shitty senator even by the standards of a shitty senator.

Still, there is one difference here: most of those projects are about symbolism. Showin’ he can throw his dong around and Get Things Done, and makin’ sure future generations remember it. At least Gateway is arguably useful. The track part anyway.

Nathanael October 3, 2012 - 9:29 pm

Actually, there are far, far worse Senators than Schumer.

Far worse.

I’m not that fond of him, but he actually does get stuff done. And it’s not easy to get stuff done in the US SENATE, home of the fake filibuster. There are Senators who have never gotten ANYTHING done.

Bolwerk October 4, 2012 - 2:29 am

I’m not especially sure I like what he’s done, though he’s definitely an effective politician. He generally seems to alternate between contempt for and indifference to his home city though.

Alon Levy October 4, 2012 - 9:03 pm

If we moves to Israel and gets elected there, it’ll improve the quality of government in both countries.

Alon Levy October 4, 2012 - 9:04 pm

*he moves.

Nathanael October 9, 2012 - 8:39 pm

Depends who he’s replaced by, Alon. Consider such luminaries as Carl Palladino, who would no doubt vie to replace him.

jim October 2, 2012 - 2:13 pm

Look more closely at what Schumer said:

“That means we need to build these tunnels now,” the senior senator said. “We can’t wait for the rest of the project to be formulated …”

He’s pushing for the tunnels, not for Penn South, not for Moynihan, not for a Secaucus Bypass (or Loop). That’s more like $2B than the $13-15B that the entire project (which has yet to be formulated!) has been estimated at. Add in a new Portal Bridge and triple tracking from Lack to Dock East and it’s still under $3B. Something from the Feds, something from the PA, something from NY, something from NJ. Not quite such heavy lifting.

Bolwerk October 2, 2012 - 2:40 pm

Meh. There shouldn’t be a rest of the project. The useful part is the tunnel and whatever minimal work needs to be done to use the tunnel to its full extent. We don’t need a new terminal or terminal headhouse.

If we’re going to spend billions of dollars to terminate a few trains in New York, let’s spend it terminating Amtrak at JFK or something like that. It would probably still be oodles cheaper than Penn South.

Eric F October 2, 2012 - 3:12 pm

Even having live three tracking from Harrison to New York would be huge. The dominant user of those tracks is NJ Transit, which has a very predictable flow in and out of NYP. A single relief track would eliminate the mass delyas caused now by minor incidents.

Bolwerk October 2, 2012 - 3:56 pm

That makes more sense to me than a new headhouse. Hell, it should probably be four-tracked.

jim October 2, 2012 - 8:16 pm

Recognize that the Morris-Essex lines come in at Swift/Kearny. There’s an argument for four-tracking Lack-Swift. But west of Swift three will do. As far as I can tell, the present Gateway plans call for four-tracking all the way to Newark, though.

Bolwerk October 3, 2012 - 9:09 am

Assuming HSR is in the picture, it probably makes sense to four track as much as NJ’s NEC route as possible. That area, anyway, is perhaps the biggest bottleneck on the NEC.

Nathanael October 3, 2012 - 9:30 pm

Newark is already a bottleneck, which affects the NJCL (mostly) — there’s good reason for four-tracking all the way to Newark.

John-2 October 2, 2012 - 2:42 pm

The key difference between ARC and Gateway is that ARC, dead-ending in the Batcave under Macy’s, was a core project for New Jersey which disinterested New York and had no tangible benefits for any other state. Gateway, in contrast, has the potential to increase speeds and improve service for Amtrak riders along the entire Northeast Corridor, as long as its tunnels are set up so they can be through-running in Penn Station.

That means a project that connects Boston with the Washington D.C. area has potential support areas all the way from northern Virginia to southern New Hampshire, if Amtrak promotes the project effectively and doesn’t go overboard on the costs, to the point it turns into the N.Y. metro area’s version of Boston’s Big Dig and it’s negative cost-overrun publicity. If Schumer’s going to sell the usefulness of Gateway, the bigger the overall benefit area, the better its chances in Congress.

lawhawk October 2, 2012 - 4:06 pm

Not to mention that NJ Transit has shown itself to be incompetent in handling large projects (the largest being Secaucus Transfer that would itself be made irrelevant if the bypass loop were built to allow one-seat rides to NYC Penn – that went overbudget by hundreds of millions – what was a $80 million project turned into a $450 million boondoggle that didn’t have a parking lot for park and ride – which is now what justifies ridership figures). NJ Transit’s operating budget can’t support additional service to NYP on the Main/Bergen/Pascack without taking away service to Hoboken.

At the same time NY wasn’t kicking in anything for the interstate project. ARC got going because Corzine wanted a groundbreaking before the election, and that didn’t help him win; Christie killed it when NJ would shoulder the burden of the overruns. If the feds didn’t think that the overruns were significant, they could have ponied up the money if they wanted the project to move ahead; they didn’t.

ARC was a NJT vanity project, and while it would have increased capacity for NJT, it wouldn’t have helped NJT or NJ’s bottom line.

Gateway is a true interstate project that supports future HSR, improves track capacity (including NJT) and has support for trains heading to Sunnyside rather than clogging capacity through the newly built tunnels as ARC would have done (no where to send the trains once they disembarked).

Bolwerk October 2, 2012 - 4:14 pm

That whole Christie killed it because of overruns narrative is a plain crock. He killed it so he could blow the money elsewhere, and made no effort to actually deal with the overruns, which were not preordained.

SEAN October 2, 2012 - 5:09 pm

You are right on regarding Cristie on the ARC project.

The total project is expected to cost $13-$15 billion and will not be completed before 2020.

If this was money dedicated for a defence contract, nobody would say a word. Since this is dollars going towards a nessessary public transit project, it would be labeled pork & face numerous obsticals since outside the northeast, noone uses transit as the myth goes.

Eric F October 3, 2012 - 8:46 am

I would have no problem with cancelling a defense cntract and funneling the money to ARC, but the two concepts are not interchangeable. NJ cannot print money and borrow at will. NJ is severely constrained financially. It has littel available borrowing capacity, its taxes are sky high and it has a pension system that is insolvent by any objective financial measure. ARC is an appropriate federal concern and should be funded by the feds. NJ can’t do it unless it’s going to reorient spending from some other government bucket, such as education, and there’s no political will to do so.

Bolwerk October 3, 2012 - 9:03 am

NJ seems to have plenty of money lying around, if Chris Christie likes the project. It’s only when he doesn’t like the project that New Jersey is broke. Fancy that.

Also, the feds should not be paying for New Jersey’s commuter business. They should be focusing on things like Gateway. But besides the fact that the project was financed, the borrowing for something like ARC could be backed by TIFs and slightly higher gas taxes, two things the feds can’t really do.

I can’t find any evidence that NJ’s borrowing capacity is “severely constrained” either. I do see where things like pensions pose a long-term problem, but that problem is hardly unique to NJ.

Eric F October 3, 2012 - 3:03 pm

“NJ seems to have plenty of money lying around, if Chris Christie likes the project. It’s only when he doesn’t like the project that New Jersey is broke. Fancy that.”

That is content-free.

Bolwerk October 3, 2012 - 5:50 pm

I guess I’ll ignore that either you don’t know what content is, or have no sense of irony when you accuse someone else of being sloppy with facts. You do realize that Christie wanted to um, borrow (<— that’s what you’re always complaining about, right?) $260M to pay for transport projects?

Coincidentally, that’s about the payment on amortizing NJ’s share of ARC.

Eric F October 4, 2012 - 9:43 am

NJ’s share of ARC was $260 million? Judging from Kabak’s daily postings on this site, I think $260 million might buy one high-speed escalator in ARC’s deep cavern station.

Bolwerk October 4, 2012 - 11:57 am


Am I talking to a Turing machine programmed to output a random red herring? You make these sweeping comments about government finances and don’t know what amortization is?

Eric F October 4, 2012 - 1:55 pm

Ok, ok, got it. ARC was $5.62. For the price of a Whopper combo meal, Christie could ahve given every resident of NJ service from their front door to their office building awning in Manhattan. But he didn’t. Why? Because he’s a re-thug-lican (see what I did there?) and he’s just that evil. He wound up giving the right-of-way to Haliburton to frack for oil and babys’ tears using a solution of gatorade and arsenic, right under the New Jersey palisades!

Bolwerk October 4, 2012 - 4:20 pm

Strange. If you increase that $5.62 by nine orders of magnitude, that might be damn near the most truthful paragraph about politics you’ve ever written. It also might be how much Christie spends on Whopp—oh, nevermind.

West October 3, 2012 - 9:39 am

I would predict that the entire Hoboken Division will go the way of Long Island City on the LIRR when all trains have access to NYP.

The logical tunnel IMHO is not to NYP, but from Hoboken to Fulton Street to Atlantic Terminal on a through run to Jamaica.

John-2 October 3, 2012 - 11:05 am

You’d pretty much have to build a new Hoboken Terminal under the PATH station — or abandon Hoboken as a station entirely — since the current one is too close to the Hudson to attach tunnels to the existing tracks. Either option is likely to tick off the folks in the Hoboken-Jersey City area.

The tunnel would also have to underrun the 1, A-C, N-R, 4-5, J-Z and 2-3 tunnels in lower Manhattan and then underrun the A-C, G, 2-3-4-5, B-Q and the D-N-R tunnels at Atlantic Yards to hook up to the LIRR. Digging under all that spaghetti is why when the various groups looked at bringing the LIRR from Flatbush Avenue to Lower Manhattan, they pushed the (less costly but stupider) idea of taking the Montague Street tunnel from the subways and giving it to the LIRR.

Bolwerk October 3, 2012 - 12:21 pm

I don’t see a major issue with a tunnel under the station. It doesn’t need to be anymore than a single large island platform, as far as use is concerned. I don’t know if West’s idea is good, but I can think of a major advantage and a major drawback.

The advantage: decent access to east side subway service, which is just the Lex now but might include the SAS some day.

The drawback: no realistic access for points north of the city, though maybe the NY Connecting Railroad could be hooked into a circuitous trip to Atlantic Terminal.

John-2 October 3, 2012 - 1:00 pm

If I were extending the LIRR across the East River, I’d probably point it towards Metro Tech coming out of the Flatbush Terminal That would be the best way to avoid the ant colony of tunnels in the Borough Hall area, and you might even have clearance to run in through the mezzanines and over the tracks of the A-C and G lines at Fulton and Lafayette streets without having to build a new Flatbush station under the B-Q tunnel. Once in Manhattan, the terminal could be over in the Seaport area, north of Fulton but integrated with the Second Avenue subway station planned for that location, so that both could be reasonably close to the surface and not have to deal with the LIRR crossing more subway tunnels.

Running over or under the F tracks at York-Jay would be the only other major underground obstacle if the LIRR terminal was on the east side of the Financial District. Putting it over near the WTC site, or building a through-running tunnel to New Jersey would mandate a deep cavern project similar to ARC, which would likely come in way over the ARC’s cost, due to the number of existing lines and other substructures that would have to kept operational as the work took place. It’s no problem if you have no budget constraints, but if money is an object, sticking with Gateway with hook-ups to the East River tunnels is the best option.

Benjamin October 3, 2012 - 2:56 pm

If you’re not going through to NJ, just convert the entire Atlantic Branch to subway like the RPA says — having it run as a super-express on its current route, from Atlantic Terminal down to Rosedale via Locust Manor (and throw in a bunch of infill stations to serve SE Queens, which has terrible transit access). From Atlantic, plug it into the local tracks at Hoyt-Schermerhorn, reopen Court St, go under the river, and then up again on the 2nd ave line.

But I still prefer leaving commuter rail as commuter rail and going to NJ via Fulton.

Bolwerk October 3, 2012 - 12:23 pm

I rather doubt all trains could fit into Penn. Hoboken will still be needed as a terminal.

Nathanael October 3, 2012 - 9:38 pm

I’m not so sure. The trend for 100 years has been away from terminals on the New Jersey Waterfront. With four tracks to Penn from the west, four tracks to Penn from the east, and THROUGH-RUNNING, I could see Hoboken Terminal being completely shuttered, except for PATH and HBLRT. (It would still be kept around for emergencies and as a train yard, no doubt.)

And both PATH and HBLRT into Hoboken are dead-end lines too. If sea level rises enough to flood Hoboken, I could see the whole damn thing being abandoned. Alternatively, I could see one or both being extended northward across downtown Hoboken.

Bolwerk October 4, 2012 - 2:37 am

I was assuming they would not through run, and Gateway seems to assume as much. Presumably, Penn could probably support close to 90 TPH if it really got four tracks and through ran most of them.

The terminal does not, but most of Hoboken has a pretty good elevation. At least the terminal could probably be protected by a seawall, though I don’t know how well that would work for PATH.

Nathanael October 9, 2012 - 8:41 pm

The terminal’s partly on fill and piers. Not so sure it would be worth it to seawall it.

Nathanael October 9, 2012 - 8:42 pm

Through-running has got to happen eventually; it just makes too damn much *sense*.

Now, LIRR is going to be the last agency to agree to it, but I could see a ConnDOT / Metro-North / NJT agreement coming surprisingly quickly.

JebO October 4, 2012 - 4:08 pm

“The logical tunnel IMHO is not to NYP, but from Hoboken to Fulton Street to Atlantic Terminal on a through run to Jamaica.”

Agreed 110%. Midtown already has a through east-west connection. Downtown needs one too.

John R October 8, 2012 - 2:24 pm

This is actually a pretty good idea overall. There’s an unused set of tunnels that could support trains from Seacacus and the NE Corridor from Newark Penn (The old Erie tunnels under Jersey City Heights). Using those tunnels now is isn’t practical because of the track orientation, but if they were to burrow into a deep cavern tunnel that ran across manhattan with two tracks and only three utilitarian stations with a mid-track platform (one at NewPort or Exchange with connection to Path, Fulton, and Atlantic), the stations and tunnels could support a pretty good volume and also help alleviate a bit of the current bottleneck getting into the Hoboken area. This might still mean lower train volume at Hoboken; however, it would dramatically impact the connectivity of the area. Heck you could even add an above-ground station to promote development on the West side of Downtown Jersey City before the trains descend into the deep tunnels..

Ian October 10, 2012 - 11:21 am

NJTransit didn’t want a parking deck at Secaucus because they were afraid it would cut into commuters at other stations further down the line.

Redirecting trains away from Hoboken to NYP is necessary. The PATH can’t handle more commuters. Fewer NJTransit trains terminating in Hoboken would allow more PATH trains to come out of Jersey City where some 20,000 housing units are planned.

The final deal cut with Christie behind closed doors was to cap NJ’s contribution at $2.8B. Christie wanted the ARC funds to repair NJ’s roadways rather than raising the gas tax. The only obstacle he really had with canceling ARC was justifying the planned Port Authority toll hikes after freeing up the $3B Port Authority contribution to ARC.

ARC would have provided the capacity to build out the Scranton line, the Middlesex County line and to restore rail service on the West Trenton line and reestablish service to Easton, PA. Also, the Bergen County portion of the HBLR would have become a commuter rail with direct access to NYP using the DMU engines NJTransit had pre-ordered. Without ARC’s capacity — Gateway doesn’t off enough space for NJTransit — most of these projects will never be realized.

ARC began before Corzine, before McGreevey, under Republican administrations. It was a multi-administration process dating back almost two decades. Gateway is a sad shadow of the former ARC tunnel.

Bolwerk October 2, 2012 - 4:11 pm

If Amtrak service weren’t so sorry, it could probably be useful as far away as Ohio too. Columbus to NYC is less than 5&half; hours at 100mph.

Hell, at average speeds of 110 mph, Indianapolis is only 6&half; hours away, a little greater than the time window where HSR might be competitive with flight.

SEAN October 2, 2012 - 4:48 pm

Can Sen. Schumer power through the Gateway Tunnel? Yes, if he stays on track.

Eric F October 3, 2012 - 8:49 am

Sen Schumer owns his mini-me, Gillibrand. If those two and the two NJ senate-critters put on a united front they could actually get something accomplished here. It’d be even better if NY or NJ had a senator on the other side of the aisle that supported this thing, but that doesn’t appear in the cards. Still, if all four lined up and exerted influence for this I could see it moving forward.

Nathanael October 3, 2012 - 9:40 pm

The chance of a Republican Senator supporting a rail project has dropped to near zero, thanks to rail-hatred being one of the “litmus tests” which the crazies in the Republican Party apply to their candidates.

But anyway, Gateway could get support from New England and Mid-Atlantic Senators, as it would allow for more Amtrak trips from all of those locations to NY.

Bolwerk October 4, 2012 - 2:42 am

Scott Brown probably tacitly supports Amtrak, at least insofar as it’s clearly necessary for Massachusetts.

Much of Amtrak’s survival depends on the fact that there are 22 senators from postage stamp-size states that at least nominally support.

Eric F October 4, 2012 - 10:34 am

Wasn’t East Side Access a big Damato initiative? Some Republicans are anti-rail some are not. If that guy in NJ with the unpronounceable name knocks off Menendez or if Linda M wins in CT, I doubt that they will be anything less than fully supportive of rail.

Bolwerk October 4, 2012 - 4:30 pm

I remember EAS being a big Pataki initiative, actually. But yes, any of them would probably be afraid of the political consequences of doing any less than at least maintaining the status quo.

Pronunciation: probably “Krill-lOs” (O like in ‘low’ or ‘hole’). Pretty much how you’d probably think without the ‘y’ being thrown in to throw off Latin alphabet users. 🙁

Nathanael October 9, 2012 - 8:45 pm

You’re just wrong. Look at Chris Christie if you want an example.

Pataki was from the old breed of Republicans. They’re being *forced out*. Even the ones who traditionally supported rail (Mica comes to mind) are now spending their time making anti-rail posturing.

Nathanael October 9, 2012 - 8:43 pm

Senator Brown would support Amtrak until some right-wing pressure group noticed and started pressuring him, and then would suddenly start opposing it.

Just like all the other Republicans.

Lawrence Velázquez October 3, 2012 - 11:33 am

Yes, if he stays on track.

hurrrrrr 😛

Someone October 2, 2012 - 7:58 pm

That would cost lots of money.

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AG October 4, 2012 - 1:00 am

I sure hope he can

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