Home Asides A year of PATH outages announced a week in advance

A year of PATH outages announced a week in advance

by Benjamin Kabak

So here’s an odd, intriguing and important story, especially for those who live, work or play in Jersey City: For 45 weekends beginning seven days, the Port Authority will be shutting down the PATH tunnel between Exchange Place and the World Trade Center. Weekend service will continue to operate to 33rd St. via Hoboken, but signal upgrades and a Sandy response will knock out the Lower Manhattan connection for the rest of 2014 and into 2015. Next year, the same work will occur in the uptown tunnel.

Strangely, the PA did not announce this work until yesterday, just eight days before the project is scheduled to start. In a press release, the agency detailed the work to be done. A good portion of the work involves installation of Positive Train Control and a $580 million signal upgrade. Why PATH, basically the equivalent of NYC’s subway system, hasn’t applied for an exemption from the federal PTC requirements, is a good question. The remainder of the work involves Sandy remediation efforts that include desalination work and a full replacement of 90 percent of the utilities in the tunnel.

Unsurprisingly, as Ted Mann reports, the PTC project is already coming in overbudget. With a renewed push on safety in the aftermath of the Metro-North accidents, the PA is going to have to spend somewhere between $20-$60 million more than originally anticipated. On the bright side, PATH will also be able to run more trains once the full signal system is upgraded, but Jersey City residents are none too happy with this year-long inconvenience.

You may also like


Ryan February 7, 2014 - 4:27 pm

Why would PATH bother seeking out a time-wasting exemption from upgrading their signaling system?

Serious question. They need to upgrade their signaling anyway, what’s so offensively horrific about PTC that they should waste time and money pursuing an exemption just so they can turn around and install some other system instead?

Patrick O'Hara February 7, 2014 - 4:29 pm

PATH retains its status as a full-fledged FRA regulated railroad to this day (a vestige from the H&M days). Because of this, PATH must install PTC on its tracks to comply with the federal mandate. Exceptions to the mandate can only be given for segments of track that see less than six round-trips per day (but PATH runs far more than that, so they will have to install PTC to comply). The subway is not considered a full-fledged railroad, so it doesn’t have to comply with the PTC mandate.

Ryan February 7, 2014 - 4:35 pm

Isn’t the time spent on seeking an exemption better spent on getting PATH declared “not a full-fledged railroad subject to FRA regulation” instead, in that case?

Seeking a narrow exemption from this one particular facet of the consequences of being overseen by the FRA strikes me as incredibly short-sighted – particularly since, again, signal upgrades have to happen anyway.

Patrick O'Hara February 7, 2014 - 4:37 pm

PATH can have out of the FAR-regulated railroad circle whenever it wants, but doing so would close off certain streams of federal funding, which they do not seem too inclined to lose.

Stephen Smith February 8, 2014 - 1:12 am

What funding streams, specifically, do they get that they’d have to give up?

Patrick O'Hara February 8, 2014 - 2:04 pm

I know PATH makes use of a few of the grants that the FRA spells out here. If they decide to end their relationship with the FRA, they will lose out on many of those opportunities.

The FRA also often gives loans and grants to railroads to help with rolling stock procurements or large capital construction projects (the latter of which PATH seems to be doing a lot of lately).

Brandon February 7, 2014 - 4:43 pm

I know that PATH is supposed to put in PTC because they have connections to the mainline rail system.

The only reason I can think of for them not to seek (and receive) an exemption is if they wanted to run trains to Newark Airport via the Northeast Corridor mainline. Given the redundancy of the PATH airport extension to begin with, WHY ARENT THEY DOING THAT? Has it even been studied or considered? Certainly it would save some money, even if it was still ridiculously overpriced for what it was.

The current NEC uses catenary only afaik, so couldnt they run PATH-compatible third rail as far as the airport? Im not sure about rush hour, but the trains didnt seem frequent enough on all those tracks the last time I was there that you couldnt fit a few more in, especially assuming that not all PATH trains would run as far as the airport. I certainly hope they would at least do it the way BART has and only run every other train out there.

Andrew Smith February 7, 2014 - 5:03 pm

Can anyone here comment on whether this is a reasonable time frame and cost for this work? Seriously, how the hell are signals such a difficult and expensive thing to install? It’s a few miles of cables and some lights.

Also, how can they need to shut down the tunnels for a year to install signals when they have closed one tunnel at a time on the downtown line every weekend FOR FIVE YEARS to do exactly this job? What have they accomplished in those five years? And why can’t they just continue to do it one tunnel at a time?

I seriously do not understand how this announcement was not met with the immediate firing of every single person at the PA who thought this was in any way acceptable and calls to reorganize the process by which we maintain infrastructure such that things weren’t actually worse now then they were 100 years ago. How much more will people take while just shrugging their shoulders?

Benjamin Kabak February 7, 2014 - 5:05 pm

Just to be clear, the work PATH is performing is weekends only. The tubes will be open during the week. I may need to revise the post to better reflect that situation.

I agree with the rest of what you’ve said.

lawhawk February 7, 2014 - 6:11 pm

From what I’ve read, it’s a combination of upgrading the signals, replacing tracks, and basically a top-to-bottom cleanup of Sandy damage due to corrosion. Having the closures will probably also facilitate the transit hub construction.

But is it surprising that PATH didn’t exactly give a lot of lead time on the closures? Nope, not at all. It’s just par for the course.

Hank February 7, 2014 - 5:30 pm

Seriously, how the hell are signals such a difficult and expensive thing to install? It’s a few miles of cables and some lights.

Clearly, you have no understanding of what’s required for a railway signal system. It’s much more than some wires and lights.

pete February 8, 2014 - 2:16 pm

Care to explain? I have a drill, I have some conduit, and I some wire on spools. It takes 2 weeks, usually 1, to outfit a office building for a tenant from core gutted state. So why does it take 100 days to install a signaling system? Hours of reading the newspaper while waiting for the correct worker to show up to hand you a screwdriver due to “cross craft violations”?

JJJJ February 7, 2014 - 5:12 pm

Why the fuck will they still be requiring a transfer to get to Newark?

Anon256 February 7, 2014 - 5:14 pm

The link reports that they plan to run trains between Newark and Journal Square, and separately between Journal Square and 33rd (via Hoboken), forcing everyone going to Newark to transfer. What possible reason could there be for not instead just extending the trains from 33rd to run all the way to Newark? It’s as though they’re deliberately trying to maximise inconvenience.

SEAN February 7, 2014 - 5:37 pm

Seriously, it’s a cross platform transfer – no big deal.

As for extending Journal Square trains to Newark, it’s a good idea. I just wonder if there’s a scheduling issue that is preventing such a move.

Anon256 February 7, 2014 - 7:24 pm

At least when they’ve forced such a transfer for construction in the past, the schedules aren’t coordinated, so it greatly increases trip time.

JJJJ February 7, 2014 - 11:40 pm

Someone has clearly never done it before.

You add 5-10 minutes to your trip, standing around in the cold….for no reason

Stephen Smith February 8, 2014 - 1:17 am

It would raise operating costs. 33rd St. to Newark is a longer run than WTC to Newark. Multibillion dollar overruns on single projects are fine, but slightly higher operating costs are a big no-no.

Anon256 February 8, 2014 - 2:36 am

They’re going to be running trains every 10 minutes between 33rd and Journal Sq, and trains every 10 minutes between Journal Sq and Newark. How would it increase operating costs at all to just have the same train run through?

Brooklyn Cowbell Guy February 7, 2014 - 5:29 pm

$5 says Gov. Christie is getting back at someone

SEAN February 7, 2014 - 5:39 pm

I’ll raise you $10.

Ryan February 7, 2014 - 5:50 pm

I’ll take your bet.

Nobody could possibly be dumb enough to pull something like that twice!

…could they?

SEAN February 7, 2014 - 7:32 pm

I’ll call.

Nobody could possibly be dumb enough to pull something like that twice!

…could they?

You never know, as stupidity knows no bounds. Plus it’s Chris Christie we’re refering to.

Frank February 7, 2014 - 6:11 pm

The PA is a such a f****** disaster right now, it’s amazing they provided any notice at all.

Beebo February 7, 2014 - 6:16 pm

I’m with Ryan: why file an exemption on PTC when you can just get it done? Now, waiting until a few days before the weekend work begins is just high-quality shenanigans, but LOL, what are you going to do?

(Insert joke about they’re learning from NJT here. Although it might be vice-versa.)

Nyland8 February 9, 2014 - 1:45 pm

“The good news is, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news is, the light is NEW JERSEY !!
– Fred Armisen as Governor Paterson of New York

Eric F February 10, 2014 - 9:48 am

The PA alluded to 2014 outages last year. Very odd that this little advance warning was provided. Rough situation for Jersey City people. The signal project is a key element of better service, but who knows if it’ll ever be done. The PTC seems irrelevant. the PATH trains go really slow and I’ve never heard of a collision on PATH, apart from a train hitting a bumper a few years ago, with no serious injuries.

The PA’s announcement is vague about when the full signal project will be done. This is one of this things that’s announced constantly and proceeds glacially if at all. They’ve theoretically been at this for 5 years already and don’t even have an end date, which they;d blow right by anyway.

What PATH really needs is a third tunnel from Journal Square to WTC in which could be run reversible express service to Newark to WTC.

tacony February 11, 2014 - 3:04 pm

This along with that ridiculous dwell time at Hoboken means people in JC have a rough time getting into the city every weekend this year. This is a big deal consider the tepid press it’s getting.

sonicboy678 March 2, 2014 - 4:58 pm

Big whoop. Until sometime in October (hopefully), the Montague Street tubes will be closed 24/7. To sour the deal, the stations between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street via Montague will not open on weekends.


Leave a Comment