Home Gateway Tunnel Wanted: A champion, some dollars and a trans-Hudson tunnel

Wanted: A champion, some dollars and a trans-Hudson tunnel

by Benjamin Kabak

For the past few years, I’ve argued that big-ticket transportation items in New York City see the light of day only when they have a political champion lined up to fight for dollars. Senator Schumer delivered money for the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway; Mayor Bloomberg ushered in the 7 line extension; for better or worse, Al D’Amato shoulders the thanks (and blame) for East Side Access; and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is responsible for the mysteriously funded New New York Bridge. Without these politicians fighting for their projects, construction wouldn’t have begun, and money wouldn’t have flowed.

A few years ago, a trans-Hudson rail tunnel — with its flaws and all — had a champion in then-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, but as we know, his successor has been no friend to transit. Now, with the Hudson River Tunnels suffering from damage inflicted by Sandy’s floodwaters and the general limitations of a century’s-old piece of infrastructure, the need for a replacement or a additional tunnels has never been greater and the silence from various leaders has never been so deafening.

As the Hudson Yards development kicks into gear, provisioning is in place for a future trans-Hudson tunnel, and Amtrak has amorphous and unfunded plans to build the Gateway Tunnel as part of a Northeast Corridor high-speed rail plan that you could be forgiven for thinking is a pie-in-the-sky idea. But the trans-Hudson tunnel is just crying out for someone to take the lead. In fact, from recent reports, it sounds as though the feds want to give money to this project, but no one is asking with enough specificity to satisfy grant requirements.

Andrew Tangel of The Wall Street Journal has the story:

A top federal transportation official on Thursday expressed support for digging new passenger rail tunnels under the Hudson River, as the current aging ones irk commuters with delays between New York and New Jersey. But Peter Rogoff, the U.S. undersecretary of transportation for policy, cited two major hurdles in jump-starting a tunnel project: money and coordination among various government agencies. “We would like to get on with it, but we are going to need funding growth to be able to address those kinds of projects,” Mr. Rogoff said.

Mr. Rogoff, who was in New York City for a meeting Thursday of the region’s top transportation officials, touted the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 proposed budget that calls for billions of dollars of additional funding for transportation projects across the country. Amtrak’s proposed “Gateway” project, which includes the tunnels and other major upgrades, is estimated to cost $15 billion to $20 billion, a steep price tag in an era of tight budgets. “For a project of this size and scope, you need a game-changing pot of funding specifically for construction,” Mr. Rogoff said.

Mr. Rogoff pointed to the president’s proposed budget, which includes about $50 billion in funding over six years that could potentially fund a tunnel project. Top transportation officials in New York and New Jersey have been holding informal meetings about the Amtrak project in recent months. The talks have included Amtrak officials, and Mr. Rogoff has said federal transportation officials have also taken part…“This project is not currently funded because we only get to the point of requesting those construction dollars when we have a fully baked project and the funding partners have all of their contributions nailed down,” Mr. Rogoff said following his speech at a meeting of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. “Well, we don’t have nailed-down contributions from either New York or New Jersey on funding their portion of the construction, so we wouldn’t put it in our budget it until we did.”

I’m guilty here of excerpting the key parts of the whole story, and I don’t have too much more to add. So I’ll wrap quickly: The trans-Hudson tunnel badly needs and should have a champion today, tomorrow, yesterday. It’s need is so blindingly obvious, and the region will practically collapse if anything even more serious happens to Amtrak’s current tunnels. That this hasn’t happened when the feds are basically throwing New York and New Jersey in the form of billions of dollars is dismaying. The short-term and long-term futures depend on it; who will step up and take on the challenge?

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Larry Greenfield March 17, 2015 - 12:17 am

If this isn’t a job for the PANYNJ, what is? In spite of their dismal record of achievement, cost control and inter-state cooperation, I guess they, by default, should own and drive this project for NY and NJ. That means the two governors must own and drive it. Not a hopeful situation given who they are and how public-transportation-oriented they are.
The only other entity is the MTA, a far more competent organization. Will they take ownership? Doubtful, given the posture of NY’s governor vis-a-vis public transit planning and funding.

vanshnookenraggen March 17, 2015 - 3:38 am

It’s more complicated than that. The tunnel is used by NJT as well as Amtrak. It leads into Penn Station which is also used by the MTA. It’s not like these organizations are buddy buddy. Throw the PANYNJ in the mix and you’ve got every regional transportation authority vying for control or rather vying to be not-it in terms of funding.

Amtrak, being federal, seems to have the best chance to get this built but it would still need the money and the support from NJ. Hopefully Christie will resign to run for president and open the door for a political backer.

lawhawk March 17, 2015 - 9:46 pm

It was my understanding that once ARC was canned and Gateway became the preferred alternative, that Amtrak would be the lead agency precisely because it was a federal agency and that it would prioritize the HSR aspects of the project.

Of course, that has its own series of limitations, including that Amtrak wants to spend considerable sums on a Penn Station replacement, which wont necessarily add capacity rather than building out infrastructure that would – up and down the NEC ($1 billion could go a long way to improving reliability of power systems along NEC).

If given the alternative between a multibillion dollar terminal/station a la WTC PATH or a Portal Bridge replacement, any transit user who is affected by the Portal Bridge would demand the money go to the Portal Bridge replacement – and twice on Sundays.

Neither Gov. Christie nor Gov. Cuomo seem interested in seeing this done, despite both states’ benefiting immensely from the improved connections and infrastructure improvements.

So, it would fall to people like Sen. Gillibrand, Sen. Booker, and local Congressional representatives. Heck, we’d need to get the PA and CT delegations involved too since we’d have through-running trains and that delays to both Hudson River and Portal Bridge can back all trains up up and down the East Coast on the NEC.

But with the GOP in firm control, I don’t see the President’s transit budget coming anywhere near close enough to make this happen.

Also, news reports are floating the possibility that the Port Authority is taking a hard look at replacing the PABT, which is also sorely needed. That is a billion dollar undertaking at a minimum (especially considering land acquisitions that would be likely to expand a footprint or store buses when not in use). So, it’s not likely that the PA would have the funds to drop on Gateway anytime soon, and that’s even as they’re winding down on WTC related projects.

adirondacker12800 March 18, 2015 - 12:41 pm

They are far along in the process to replace Portal Bridge. They have a Record of Decision – that all the environmental planning is complete – and they can build it.



lawhawk March 18, 2015 - 2:42 pm

The only thing the Portal Bridge replacement needs is the money to go forward. It’s good to go, except that it’s been linked to Gateway so that it wont get done until Gateway (or its successor). Instead of getting construction underway to fix that bottleneck, they’re trying to get it all done at once, when the Portal Bridge causes as many or more issues daily than the Hudson River tunnels do.

Alleviating one bottleneck still means the others exist, but you’d get a faster and more reliable ride from Secaucus south. Amtrak trains would be able to run much faster through the Meadowlands, and express trains would be able to run faster through the corridor as well. The Portal Bridge segment is speed limited to 60mph, while the rest of the surrounding segment before the Hudson River tunnels is 90 mph.

It’s a significant impediment.

adirondacker12800 March 18, 2015 - 4:53 pm

The only thing the Portal Bridge replacement needs is the money to go forward

Which is much different than:

…a Portal Bridge replacement, any transit user who is affected by the Portal Bridge would demand the money go to the Portal Bridge replacement…

It takes a significant amount of time to get to the point where they can start digging holes. They are at that point.

The trains used to exit the tunnel and accelerate to 90+ and surf all the way to Harrison at that speed. Saves a few minutes.


As part of the much talked about work between New Brunswick and Trenton they are upgrading the substation in Metuchen. And replacing all of the switches west of Penn Station, replacing the 15MPH switches with 30MPH switches. So they are slowly chipping away at the deferred maintenance/upgrades.

LLQBTT March 18, 2015 - 12:06 pm

There are so many rail tunnels under the East/Harlem Rivers and yet only 3 pairs of tunnels connecting westward. Something is wrong with that picture.

Alon Levy March 18, 2015 - 3:47 pm

Blame Britain for splitting New Netherlands into New York and New Jersey.

adirondacker12800 March 18, 2015 - 4:56 pm

Blame New Jersey and New York for building automobile crossings while ignoring rail.

Stewart Clamen March 18, 2015 - 5:23 pm

You mean East Jersey

adirondacker12800 March 18, 2015 - 6:14 pm

It’s west of Ninth Avenue. Does it matter to him or most of the people who frequent here?


SEAN March 18, 2015 - 8:15 pm

Come on guys, bickering solves nothing.

Eric March 18, 2015 - 6:02 pm

The East/Harlem rivers are easier to build under, right? More narrow and shallower?

Alon Levy March 19, 2015 - 6:40 pm

Not by much, and not at all in the Midtown area. It’s entirely about administrative boundaries.

BruceNY March 17, 2015 - 7:50 am

The PA has other goals, such as spending a sum to replace the PA Bus terminal which dwarfs what they spent on Calatrava’s transit hub. This is in the news today in fact.

Eric F March 17, 2015 - 8:52 am

I’m a big fan of one, two even three sets of new tunnels. I don’t see however how this is the purview of the PANYNJ. Sure, it could be, but the facility will not be tolled by the PANYNJ or run by it once it’s handed over to the railways, so why would PANYNJ be the lead agency for it. It’s no less a mission creep than it’s financing of the Sjyway project, and probably worse because costs will spiral beyond estimates and it will atke vastly more managerial talent to herd together NJT, Amtrak and an alphabet soup or permitting agencies versus writing a big check to Skyway repair contractors. The reason the PANYNJ would be chosen is simply because it exists in the here and now, and we have SO MUCH government that it can’t get out of its own way to create a special purpose compact between NY and NJ to build a tunnel that literally everyone on Earth acknowledges is needed.

j.b. diGriz March 17, 2015 - 12:25 pm

Well, the Port Authority is tasked with the responsibility of managing transit infrastructure in a 25m radius from the statue of liberty. They own and operate all the hudson crossings south of the Tappan Zee.

Though I’d be amenable to seeing Triborough B&T take a shot at it, I don’t have a sense of whether they have the institutional wherewithal for the build project.

lop March 17, 2015 - 8:05 pm

They don’t own the Amtrak tunnels. They did help fund ARC. Can’t fund son of ARC if the governors don’t want to support the project though.

AG March 17, 2015 - 1:35 pm

I think Ben’s point is there needs to be a high ranking politician to actually champion it before an agency can/will get behind it.

John-2 March 17, 2015 - 1:44 am

The lack of through-running tracks to New England on Corzine’s ARC doomed it. There was no other champion who would step forward to defend it once Chrstie succeeded him, because it was viewed (fairly or not) as having only marginal benefits for anyone outside of New Jersey.

The more skin in the game, the more chances the Hudson tunnels have of getting regional, instead of just NY metro area, support. But it still may take the urgency or pain of going several months with only one tube open to conduct Sandy repairs (and the ensuing howls, not just from NJT passengers, but from all Amtrak passengers on the Was-NY-Bos corridor) in order to put the potential loss of the tunnels on the regional front burner.

Eric F March 17, 2015 - 8:56 am

Interesting point. It’s not like Amtrak could have taken over the project, because ARC had no direct utility to Amtrak trains which wouldn’t be able to use it.

The Obama Administration’s failing was in not directing stimulus finding to simply cover the project and/or the related but unattached aspects such as a new Portal Bridge and added trackage between Newark and the new tunnel. Had they simply built out the Newark to tunnel mouth section that ARC implied but didn’t account for, we’d be in a much better situation now.

adirondacker12800 March 17, 2015 - 11:01 am

building extra tracks between Newark and the Hudson doesn’t do much good until there are new tunnels.

eo March 17, 2015 - 11:33 am

Everyone seems to claim this, but I still fail to see why this is true. Yes, the benefit in terms of number of trains is much less without the tunnels than with the tunnels, but that is shortsighted. If the two extra tracks existed from Newark to just the entrance of the existing tunnels, it would be much easier to get support and funding for the tunnels themselves (smaller project, less money, easier to approve). It is quite shortsighted to try to try to push everything into a single project because then the budget is huge and nobody wants to touch it with a ten feet pole. In my opinion the only way to get this thing build is to feed it piecewise through the meatgrinder that our government has become.

Eric F March 17, 2015 - 11:57 am

Assuming you have at least 3 tracks running through the tunnels (i.e., one down for rebuild when the two new ones are done), you want at least 3 going between the tunnel mouth and Newark or you didn’t solve the bottleneck. The other point is that the system is so over-taxed that maintenance is shunted to weekends, making weekend service absurdly bad and rendering fatal any signal, track or switch problem between Newark and Secaucus. Added trackage would help now by allowing traffic to route around standard maintenance issues and would also allow faster Amtrak trains to pass slower NJT locals between NY and Newark.

adirondacker12800 March 17, 2015 - 4:50 pm

Okay between 6 and 7 AM 30 NJTransit trains arrive in Penn Station and 25 go back to New Jersey. Between 7 and 8 40 arrive and 25 go back to New Jersey. No more trains from New Jersey, Long Island or Westchester can come into the station. Gonna put a serious crimp in the peak of the peak of rush hour unless there is a fourth tunnel going back to New Jersey. Or Heisenberg compensators in the teletransport machines.

AG March 17, 2015 - 1:36 pm

Well techinally – Amtrak was going to have to go their own way because they wanted high speed rail…. Now that ARC has been killed – Amtrak realizes they will need to work with all the users of trans-hudson tunnels to make everything fit together.

Elvis Delgado March 17, 2015 - 7:55 am

I’m not convinced “his [Corzine’s] predecessor was no friend to transit”. Richard Codey, who served for the 14 months preceding Corzine’s term in office, never really had an opportunity to demonstrate much in the way of transit-friendliness – but that’s hardly a reason to demean him.

Ed Unneland March 17, 2015 - 7:59 am

How well-used are the PATH tubes that enter Manhattan at Christopher Street? Could they be a stop-gap with a new East River tunnel? If NEC redundancy is the issue, is it possible that the critical problem would be routes under the East River, not the Hudson?

Perhaps first build a new East River connection from Sunnyside to the PATH tubes (23rd St. crosstown?) and then continue from that direction under the Hudson.

Matthew March 17, 2015 - 10:32 am

While the PATH train shares the same track gauge as Amtrak, the actual tunnels are skinnier and have tighter curves than can be used by Amtrak/NJTransit. Any retrofitting would be prohibitively expensive, if not technically impossible. That being said, the PATH train as it curves from Christopher Street up north to 6th Avenue at 9th Street, there already exists some infrastructure to allow for a branch traveling east along 9th Street. There are no tracks and who knows what shape its in, but it was part of the PATH’s original design.

adirondacker12800 March 17, 2015 - 10:56 am

There’s already 20 trains an hour in the tunnels.

JB March 17, 2015 - 8:15 am

I’m all for having PANYNJ funding the tunnels. They can collect a fee to pay off their bonds, and who knows, maybe even collect a profit in a few decades.

I’ve grown to the idea that a government agency should build and maintain the high speed and other infrastructure in the U.S., and private companies can operate it. Especially if that means we can see a French-type system where most NEC traffic begins off-corridor, whether Charlottesville, Richmond, Pittsburgh/Harrisburg or somewhere else, then gets on a NEC “superhighway” to New York.

Eric F March 17, 2015 - 8:58 am

There is absolutely no way that the tunnel will be profitable to anyone save the contractors and unions working on it. If it were profitable, a company would simply bid to build it for free or for a concession and hand it over after a lease term. The tunnel will be a money sink.

AG March 17, 2015 - 1:40 pm

Materially speaking – it won’t be “profitable”… This however is a utilitarian issue. Considering they have over 100 years of useful life – spending an average of 20 million a year for 100 years on new tunnels to facilitate High Speed Rail on the Northeast Corridor and the ability to double NJ Transit access to Manhattan would surely create more economic activity than the cost!! That said – 20th century was a rail century… No one knows what it will look like 100 years from now.

Larry Littlefield March 17, 2015 - 1:52 pm

$20 million per year for 100 years is, wait for it,

$2 billion.

If it was $2 billion, we could afford it. But it isn’t, with today’s consultants/unions/mobsters/contractor executives/politicians/lawyers whoever.

AG March 17, 2015 - 4:09 pm

I left off a zero while typing fast… Thanks so very much for your diligent editing… My point still stands. 200 million a year is a pittance in terms of economic activity in this region.. Let’s be serious here.
That said – Amtrak should be coming up with a good portion from the feds since this would affect the entire North East Corridor… Which is the most important economic region of the nation…

Ralfff March 20, 2015 - 12:58 am

Right now Amtrak is required to spend all their revenue subsidizing money-losing routes around the country. The thing Obama did was impose rules that forced individual states that carried regional routes to cough up cash to subsidize them. NARP’s long game as I understand it is to come up with a situation where Amtrak is free to spend their NEC profits on upgrading the NEC without scrambling every year for money from Congress; a project like this could certainly be bonded out in that case assuming costs are relatively reasonable.

Last I heard, Amtrak’s making a $300 million annual operating surplus on the NEC. The money is there (admittedly with bloated construction costs nothing’s going to get done, but if it’s $3 billion we’re in the realm of possibility). This assumes Congress stops actively hindering Amtrak, but as the article Ben links to indicates, there is federal money to be found for this project if Amtrak and/or others can get their ducks in a row. This isn’t the heaviest political lift of all time but it can only succeed if it’s framed in a way where Cuomo and Christie can somehow take credit for it while doing nearly nothing.

Ralfff March 20, 2015 - 1:02 am

Let me just say that Cuomo is deservedly a favorite punching bag around here and Christie is (maybe less deservedly) also but the legislatures must be blamed as well. The NJ legislature can at least function, but the NY legislature should not be given a pass on this issue. They’re content to lie back and let Cuomo take the blame when a tunnel gets shut down.

AG March 20, 2015 - 7:28 pm


It passed the House (bill allowing NEC profits to be used directly on NEC).

Ian M March 17, 2015 - 8:29 am

at the risk of being super nit-picky did you mean to say Corzine’s successor?

Larry Littlefield March 17, 2015 - 9:07 am

New Jersey wanted to get things that New York City paid for back when NYC was collapsing and New Jersey was rich.

It certainly hasn’t changed its mind now that NYC is OK (as long as it doesn’t try to catch up with pension underfunding and risks future bankruptcy). And New Jersey is going bankrupt (as a result of pension underfunding).

By the way, the Port Authority is broke too. Some of its former profitable operations (bus terminal, port, WTC) are now eating money, and I don’t think airports will continue to be as profitable.

If NJ wants a new tunnel, it should place a special assessment on areas near rail transit stations that would benefit. NY could then kick in, proportionally, for its west of Hudson stations.

adirondacker12800 March 17, 2015 - 5:05 pm

How about New Jersey just throws up it’s hands in defeat and lets all those high paying Manhattan jobs migrate across the river?

Last time I saw numbers, New York collects 5 billion dollars in taxes from people who don’t live in New York. Geese that lay golden eggs can fly away…

Larry Littlefield March 17, 2015 - 6:18 pm

And vice versa. Those who work in Manhattan could move to Long Island.

“New York collects 5 billion dollars in taxes from people who don’t live in New York.”

It was $2.8 billion from NJ residents in 2010.


You mean New York State, not the City of New York. That money is spent in Upstate New York.

adirondacker12800 March 17, 2015 - 6:57 pm

Some of the money that goes to Albany trickles back to New York City. If the torrent flowing to Albany recedes a bit there will be less to trickle back.

AG March 17, 2015 - 10:03 pm

Nassau and Suffolk don’t want too many more residents in case you didn’t know it. Bottom line the entire tri state (and parts of PA) is the housing market for NYC. It’s not going to change as long as the world we know it as exists.

adirondacker12800 March 18, 2015 - 1:21 am

The ones who commute to Manhattan on the LIRR already live on Long Island.

AG March 18, 2015 - 9:36 pm

Huh? I was responding to the comment made that NJ workers could just move to LI.

Brooklynite March 17, 2015 - 9:21 am

If a second pair of Hudson tunnels is constructed, IMO it should be bi-level, like the 63rd St tunnel, with a provision for sending the 7 to New Jersey. That doesn’t have to happen right away (like the LIRR in 63rd) but if we’re already building a tunnel let’s build all the tunnel we need at once.

adirondacker12800 March 17, 2015 - 11:07 am

Why? What good does sending the subway to the middle of a swamp do?

Bolwerk March 17, 2015 - 8:01 pm

Might be they should do that, and stick their $11 billion bus terminal in that swamp. Right next to Secaucus Junction?

adirondacker12800 March 17, 2015 - 8:47 pm

or spend the 11 billion building a pair of railroad tunnels and let the commuters get on the train in their suburb. Oh wait, if you want to use buses to get to Secaucus you still have to build the railroad tunnels. And more highway.

Brooklynite March 17, 2015 - 9:24 pm

Cross-Hudson capacity will be a deficit for the foreseeable future. Building an extra auto tunnel would encourage car traffic (induced demand), which would only clog city streets more. Also, the city’s only major bus terminal, PABT, is severely overburdened and cannot accept any more traffic. Hence, the solution is a rail tunnel.

If we’re building a rail tunnel, might as well make it double-decker to save costs per track. That gives us two tracks for Gateway and two others, which can’t go to Penn because that station has capacity issues of its own. That seems to leave the subway, and the only line ending near 34 St is the 7. By going to Secaucus where a bus terminal would be built, the 7 would capture NJ bus riders (diverted from an overburdened PABT that needs a rebuild), NJ rail riders (Penn Sta. capacity is very finite), and create additional capacity on these modes for the critical segment across the river.

Eric March 18, 2015 - 5:00 am

Yep. It should be bi-level because bi-level is much less than twice as expensive as single level.

Some day the existing Hudson tunnels will fail and we’ll be grateful to have four other tubes for commuter/intercity rail, rather than two.

Bolwerk March 17, 2015 - 9:42 pm

That’s what I said. You mentioned a subway to a swamp. The 7 ought to be able to handle most of the load on NJ buses, maybe even all of it.

(Not saying it’s inherently a good idea, but it’s probably a better idea than an $11B bus terminal. All that you mention is probably *still* less than $11B, at least on top of 7 extension project.)

Matthew March 17, 2015 - 10:22 am

The Gateway Project, as currently proposed, is really unnecessary considering Penn Station, Amtrak, and NJ Transit’s pressing needs at the moment. What Amtrak really needs is a means of allowing for a closure of one of its cross-Hudson tunnels for a period of time to allow for long-deferred maintenance and rehabilitation work. Instead of focusing on a behemoth $20 billion+ plan that involves far too many ifs and buts to ever see the light of day, Amtrak should invest in building a short-term, single tunnel link from Secaucus (not Newark) to Penn Station via the new Gateway Tunnel box being constructed today. This would allow for retrofitting in the future should Amtrak ever get its act together regarding HSR in the Northeast Corridor.

The whole idea of upending MSG to build a new Penn Station will not happen anytime in the next quarter century anyway, mainly because MSG has a huge interest in protracting the entire situation. The Gateway Project, which would require the demolition of scores of private buildings in the blocks from 9th to 6th avenues, 30th to 31st streets, is likely to see the same sort of delays and problems in getting off the ground. The RPA and Municipal Art Society, in their recent proposal on MSG and Penn, put forth alternative plans for Penn’s renovation (as opposed to demolition) that would open up new public spaces and modernize the station. This renovation along with a single track tunnel from Secaucus should be Amtrak’s primary goal for the near-term future. It would save a heck of a lot of money, solve the bulk of the problems currently facing Amtrak/NJT that are actually fixable with the broader Gateway Project, and, perhaps most importantly, would be far more politically feasible than the “pie-in-the-sky” Gateway Project.

Tim March 17, 2015 - 12:06 pm

If you’re doing any tunnel digging, it makes sense to go all-in on a two-track tunnel. Do it right the first time, because it costs a lot more to do it over later.

Two new tracks should be priority #1 by a country mile.

Matthew March 17, 2015 - 1:00 pm

Even if you did do two tracks, the broader point is that, today or in the foreseeable future, the Gateway Project as a whole is completely unnecessary and infeasible. The most feasible part about it is the tunnel segments from Secaucus to Penn via the new Gateway Tunnel box they’re constructing in the Hudson Yards–whether one track or two. And this would allow for deferred maintenance on the existing tunnels. Aside from that, the additional trackage from Secaucus to Newark as well as Amtrak’s proposed Penn Station South complex are really not workable in today’s political and economic climate. And even if NJT/Amtrak were able to bring six tracks across the river into Penn Station, they are still strapped for track/platform space within Penn Station. All the while, Metro North is talking about bringing in even more trains to Penn Station from the Hudson and New Haven Lines. Maybe it’s time to think about building another regional and commuter rail station in Manhattan.

al March 18, 2015 - 12:20 pm

Considering what RER did in Paris with virtual block signaling (RER A) and split track in station (RER b & D), you can fit more trains if both:
1) NY Penn had a different Concourse and Amtrak layout. The current arrangement has too much of the floor space dedicated NOT to passenger circulation. The shops, support and ancillary spaces hem in the corridors, and create the maze like quality. Demolish them, open up the floor, and add more escalators, stairs and elevators. You could triple the vertical flow rate between the platform and Concourse level.

2) LIRR rail cars and NJT bilevels get more doors. Any increase in flow rate between the platform and levels above is wasted if the passengers can’t get out of the trains faster.

Running 30 TPH from NJ require trains to operate within tight blocks of time. Considering the varying platform lengths (17, 17, 13, 10, 9, 9 cars), and train lengths that NJT uses, demand will vary. The longest platforms need to work within 4 minutes headways to prevent traffic from backing up.

adirondacker12800 March 18, 2015 - 12:33 pm

They can run 26 an hour now. They need more tunnel.

al March 19, 2015 - 11:16 am

I’m thinking more along the lines of 32-36 tph.

adirondacker12800 March 19, 2015 - 12:00 pm

How much would that lower the speed limit? Making everything slower?

Larry Littlefield March 17, 2015 - 12:22 pm

I actually think three tracks are the way to go: one for a third tunnel into the existing Penn Station interlocking, and two for the Flushing Line Extension.

A subway could carry in as many people as the existing PABT and NJT to Penn put together. Particularly with a single track loop terminal in NJ, and boarding and exiting on different sides of the train for limited dwell time and the alleged advantages of CBTC.

Did you see that PABT rebuild cost estimate? Why not rebuild it in NJ? The no-stop subway ride from Secaucus to Times Square would be a heck of a lot faster and more reliable than the ride through the tunnel on a bus, and the subway would go on from there.

adirondacker12800 March 17, 2015 - 3:06 pm

How do people get to the magic loop track?
Third track helps for the first 20 or 30 minutes of rush hour. Then the station runs out of space for the next wave of trains to arrive and they either have to teletransport to someplace other than Manhattan or there needs to be as fourth tunnel so they can leave the station.

Matthew March 17, 2015 - 4:44 pm

The third track allows Amtrak to shut down one of its tunnels at a time for deferred maintenance. I don’t think any number of additional tracks into Penn Station (as is) will actually alleviate traffic into, within, and out of Penn Station beyond a nominal amount. Simply not enough tracks, platforms, and concourse space within Penn Station to allow for efficient boarding/alighting. This keeps the trains there longer than they should. This wouldn’t be a problem if they had more tracks and platforms within Penn Station. And Penn has too many systems sharing too many tracks with too many limitations of use. Even if there were ten new tracks crossing the Hudson, where would you put all of these trains? Manhattan needs more regional/commuter rail platforms (a lot more) in more locations. This would also ease demand into and out of Penn Station.

adirondacker12800 March 17, 2015 - 7:00 pm

so spend half as many billions and not get any added capacity. Sounds like a plan!

Brooklynite March 17, 2015 - 9:39 pm

Cross-Hudson capacity is finite. Hence, we need to build something across the Hudson.

It isn’t going to be a car tunnel. Thus, it’ll be a rail tunnel.

If we’re building a rail tunnel, might as well put more than one or two tracks into it. This saves money per track.

Sending all tracks to Penn does not work. There is not enough space at Penn.

So, there must be a subway tunnel alongside Gateway. The best place to send it is Secaucus – that gives access to all of NJT rail, as well as many NJT buses if a terminal is built there. There is a nearby highway, and lots of space.

Jon Y March 18, 2015 - 8:53 am

You’d be surprised how much capacity can be created in Penn Station today if LIRR/NJT/Amtrak (and even MNRR) actually worked together. Current station dwell times are ridiculous and can easily be fixed with better schedule management or (everyone’s favorite topic) through-running.

Brooklynite March 18, 2015 - 9:43 am

Obviously, current operations are extremely inefficient. However, with the proposal to send two MNR lines to Penn the capacity gained by through-running is going to be eaten up quickly.

Besides, what Penn Station really needs is a rebuild to get rid of its narrow platforms. That can’t happen until the structural columns supporting MSG above are removed.

adirondacker12800 March 18, 2015 - 11:17 am

The problem is that there isn’t enough tunnel. They can’t get more trains through.

Larry Littlefield March 17, 2015 - 8:08 pm

I meant three more tracks.

John Doe March 17, 2015 - 1:10 pm

Let’s just do nothing and hope nothing collapses anytime soon. You know that’s what’s going to happen. Can you imagine if we never wasted any money fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? we could have had a nationwide, beautiful, modern transit system like in Europe. Imagine high speed trains criss crossing over this great country…oh well…too bad, I can’t wait to move the heck outta NYC after 33 years!

Eric F March 17, 2015 - 2:15 pm

What does Iraq and Afghanistan have to do with it? Obama had a $1 trillion dollar stimulus to play with. None of that went to NY-NJ connectivity. The current federal budget is over 3 trillion, annually. There is plenty of money in there to build needed projects.

Alon Levy March 17, 2015 - 3:30 pm

It would help if construction costs in New York were the same as here in Europe. Stockholm’s building its own equivalent of ARC (in the through-running variant): the two-track approach to Stockholm Central is a bottleneck, so they’re building a new two-track tunnel. Both tunnels allow north-south through-service. The cost of this project, per kilometer, is about $300 million. At that cost, ARC Alt G would be $2 billion. The subway extensions that are now beginning construction are $110 million/km, at which cost the full Second Avenue Subway would cost $1.4 billion.

The money Sweden saves by not invading other countries all goes to the welfare system. Public transit construction is just more efficient than in the US.

Matthew March 17, 2015 - 4:37 pm

Just another reason to take a more measured approach than Amtrak’s bloated and inefficient Gateway Project…

Eric F March 17, 2015 - 4:37 pm

If I recall my history correctly, Sweden stayed ‘neutral’ in World War II. Must have saved a fortune.

Bolwerk March 17, 2015 - 7:43 pm

Made a fortune, even. Their neutrality was based on a desire to keep their raw materials markets open to everyone.

Alon Levy March 17, 2015 - 9:40 pm

Yes, and? The US spent a fortune on WW2 but paid that debt off in the 1950s. The problem is that it kept spending a huge amount of money on the military in the early Cold War – about 10% of GDP in the interregnum between Korea and Vietnam. At the trough between the Cold War and 9/11, it was 3%, still more than pretty much any country here, both ones in NATO and ones that are neutral (like Sweden and Switzerland).

And before you ask, cheap-subway countries run the gamut. Spain, Denmark, Greece, and Italy are in NATO; Turkey is in NATO but hates America anyway; Switzerland and Sweden are neutral; Iran is on the other side; South Korea is a US ally with very high military spending because ZOMG Kim farted in our direction everyone on high alert NOW NOW NOW.

adirondacker12800 March 17, 2015 - 4:39 pm

Immersed tube and cut and cover are usually cheaper than bored tunnels.

Alon Levy March 17, 2015 - 9:44 pm

They’re excavating two station caverns – one under Stockholm Central, one in Odenplan for better regional rail service to Norrmalm. And the approach to the south of Stockholm Central passes under the Old City.

There are special construction difficulties in cheap countries, too. That’s why Citybanan is a $300 million/km project and not a $110 million/km one.

Thomas Graves March 19, 2015 - 11:57 am

When you have mafia-controlled unions and a city & state with a tradition of corruption that would make Nigeria blush, you get the staggeringly-bloated costs that rail projects in the NY area incur. Tokyo, where I live, is denser than Manhattan, with higher land costs and expensive labor, but subway construction costs are half of New York’s.

JJJJ March 17, 2015 - 2:29 pm

Lets do it the Republican way: Competition!

Competition spurs innovation and success right?

Declare it a race.

MTA vs Porth Authority vs NJ Transit vs Amtrak vs anyone else who wants to try

First one to build a usable tunnel gets $100bn to spend on whatever they want


SEAN March 17, 2015 - 5:30 pm

I have a great idea – lets turn this into another reality TV competition like Ellen’s design challenge mixed with Big Brother & millions will watch.

MrBlifil March 17, 2015 - 3:28 pm

The regions transportation departments won’t commit because they must be wary of introducing Federal oversight of any kind. The risk of their corrupt dealings being exposed must be very great.

LLQBTT March 18, 2015 - 12:12 pm

Gov. Chrisitie is too busy enriching his friends in the form of tax forgiveness scams to worry about the rest of his constituents or something as noble as a regional infrastructure project.

tone99loc March 18, 2015 - 12:51 pm

Do super wealthy people ever “donate” to public transit? Because we could really use that now. Second Ave Subway, new PABT building, ARC tunnel, ESA, airport connections, and on and on. I mean if you are super wealthy and want to be generous, probably the one thing that could impact the largest number of people in a city is improving mass transit.

Brooklynite March 18, 2015 - 2:37 pm

Here’s an idea: a company can pay a set amount of money and keep a station clean; in return, they would have the exclusive right to advertise in that station. No naming rights, but still a lot of exposure to the brand.

AG March 18, 2015 - 9:55 pm

Not a bad idea… But what about the ones without a sponsor? Unless maybe all those resources are just shifted (similar to the parks system)…?

Brooklynite March 18, 2015 - 2:38 pm

About “donating,” it’s way too corrupt a process for a person to pour their money into. Charitable causes sound better than subway funding, too.

Alon Levy March 18, 2015 - 3:48 pm

if you are super wealthy and want to be generous

If unicorns exist, then…

tone99loc March 18, 2015 - 4:22 pm

Jus saying you’ll see billionaires give 100M gifts to alma matters and buy sports teams for 600M. If you wanted to be remembered fondly by a particular city, just pony up that guap and make it happen.

Eric March 18, 2015 - 6:09 pm

Or not even the whole price. A 50% local match would make a lot of projects happen that wouldn’t otherwise happen.

AG March 18, 2015 - 10:03 pm

Alma maters are usually private institutions though… Parks have private conservancies… It’s a little diff with transit..

Alon Levy March 19, 2015 - 6:45 pm

Yes, and they get university buildings and sports stadiums named after them. Big monuments, not utilitarian pieces of infrastructure that people use. AT&T paid $5 million to rename Pattison Station after it for five years, and that’s a terminus, so that all southbound BSS trains are signed “to AT&T.”

adirondacker12800 March 19, 2015 - 10:56 pm

Flushing Line trains go to Times Square….

tone99loc March 18, 2015 - 3:22 pm

^Brooklynite – the subway station advertising idea is pretty clever…Would be best if the MTA let them do something about the actual walls and ceiling around the platform.

Kinda random, but i’ve noticed that whoever the MTA contracts with to clean those Cemusa glass bus stations, does a very good job.

wise infrastructure March 18, 2015 - 9:40 pm

For 20+ billion dollars + years of construction pains for a new penn station and a new bus terminal, the NY metro area still will not get NJ riders any further east than 7th and 8th avenues.

Extending the #7 to Secaucus with 1 or 2 new side platform built at both Times Square and Grand Central would be:

*far cheaper than either a new bus terminal or train station/rail tunnel to say nothing of both
*would provide east side access
*would take pressure off of existing infrastructure allowing their continued use for years to come with but cosmetic face lifts.

Thinking bigger:
A combined tunnel (2+2 track) subway (connecting to the #7 ) and light rail (connecting to light rail corridors on 34th, 49th/50, and 57th Streets) would get most users to their final destinations via an easier Secaucus transfer without the need to build expensive/deep Manhattan stations/terminals. Rather than depositing crowds into one terminal, users would be disbursed to their final destinations.

AG March 18, 2015 - 10:06 pm

But Hudson tunnels still need to be replaced… That also doesn’t help with HSR…
I’m not against sending the #7 – but it can’t solve everything.

wise infrastructure March 19, 2015 - 9:01 am

yes – “the new hudson tubes” (something needs to built) should be built in such a way to be able to serve first and in emergencies as an alternate for the aging rail tunnels and in normal conditions for the #7 giving east side access.

Even more creative to work around FRA rules would be a system for #7 trains to use piggyback flat cars through the new tunnel.

Thus penn station would not have more input (tunnels/trains in) than it can handle and yet the new tunnel would be used to capacity with east side access provided.

(In NJ the #7’s could remain on the piggyback when depositing/picking up passengers in the (loop) station.)

adirondacker12800 March 19, 2015 - 5:33 pm

The 7 and the IRT lines in general can fit onto mainline tracks. No need for elaborate systems, other than the third rail, for them to travel on standard gauge tracks.

wise infrastructure March 19, 2015 - 10:33 pm

“No need for elaborate systems, other than the third rail, for them (#7) to travel on standard gauge tracks.”

………sadly FRA would not allow it. If done as a piggyback, then the IRT is not running on FRA trackage.

adirondacker12800 March 19, 2015 - 11:02 pm

the time it takes to get everybody off the train, put it on the flatbeds and get everybody back is going to put a serious crimp in ridership. And the few billion dollars it would take to carve out deep cavern to do it in.

Matthew March 19, 2015 - 5:47 pm

Agreed — 7 Train to secaucus is a lot of money for a limited solution.

If the goal is to join an east side subway with NJT lines, check out — The Hudson Terminal Plan

Looks to tie together three rail lines — NJT Lines at Hoboken, 7-Line Subway, L-Line Subway — at a unified terminal on the Hudson River waterfront in Manhattan.

Billy G March 19, 2015 - 10:14 am

The future is away from the FRA. The future is away from ROW shared with freight on the same gauge rail as freight. See Elon Musk’s project if you want to see the future. Hyperloop for inter-city high-speed transport + Schweeb for intracity station-to-station transport + bike share for short local jaunts = A future without rail but with nothing ‘owned’. The first two thrive due to no ROW conflicts, they can both be hoisted above existing ROW. Schweeb’s carrier is a taut metal cable, like a cable car. That is a very flexible and inexpensive carrier that can be implemented quickly. Hyperloop is like an office’s pneumatic transport tube, but done to a greater scale. Air evacuation could be done via solar power collected along the existing ROW via the skin of the tubes. Why should a passenger train be built to share the same crash tolerance as a freight train? They shouldn’t share the same ROW in the first place. It’s wasteful! It would be much more cost-effective on a cost per passenger basis to have purpose-built infrastructure that is lighter and allows for faster travel. It can be built so there are no potential conflicts with heavier transport in normal operation. Being lighter, it can be built above or below existing Interstate Highway ROWs so fewer eminent domain takings are required.

wise infrastructure March 19, 2015 - 10:47 am

Yes separated freight and passenger lines would be great.
Sadly the future often gets locked in by the past
-just look at:

your keyboard qwerty – designed to slow down typing and prevent the keys jam

the 50 states – left over from when communication between Massachusetts and Virginia was 3 days by pony express – now NYC, Chicago and LA have more in common than areas 2 hours north of NYC but part of NYS

inches vs metric


To get something build usually means compromises.

Thomas Graves March 19, 2015 - 11:26 am

You are completely correct: the new tunnels should have been built years ago. In any other country they would have been. But the US prefers to squander hundreds of billions of dollars on boondoggle wars and gold-plated, useless weapon systems like the F-35 (no tight budgets there), so there isn’t much left for projects that actually make taxpayers’ lives better. Neither Cuomo, nor Christie give a rat’s ass about public transportation. As for the truly high-speed line linking Boston and Washington, again, this would have been done if we were in Europe or Asia, but no one posting on this board will live to see this new line built. It’s a fantasy. Beautiful, needed, but a fantasy.

eo March 19, 2015 - 12:16 pm

The problem with the champion is that you need someone who used to take the trains every day in a previous life to be in a powerful enough office. Corzine used to take the train from Summit for many years while working for Goldman Sachs, so he had first hand experience with commuting and understood why the new tunnels were needed. Christie probably never took the trains into NYC — he was a prosecutor and living in Mendham which is not a commuter town either (in fact the opposite: the car is the king there). But Cristie probably regularly drove down the turnpike and was very well aware of “the Merge”, so when he had the option to take the money out of rail which he has never used and relied on and into “the Merge” which must have aggravated him for may many years of driving, he took it and killed ARC. The same is true for Cuomo. He never commuted from upper Westchester (is it Katonah?) into the city, so he has no idea what commuting every day is all about, but he must have driven often enough over the Tappan Zee bridge that the traffic jams there must have aggravated him many, many times, so when he had the opportunity as a governor to determine the agenda what did he do? He chose to build the new Tappan Zee Bridge without rail and displays lack of desire to do anything about transit, whether it is commuter rail or the subway (Lockbox legislation, raiding the MTA funds, etc.). For the most part the same appears to be true for mayor.

So if we can extend the logic, as long as the elected politicians have never commuted themselves and were driven around in private vehicles they will always pay more attention to the problems they have faced personally and that means “NOT Transit”, but car congestion. So here you have it, now go elect someone who actually has commuted by train for 10-20 years and then we have a chance of finding a champion …


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