Home PANYNJ Port Authority aims to spend $70 million on consultants for EWR AirTrain replacement

Port Authority aims to spend $70 million on consultants for EWR AirTrain replacement

by Benjamin Kabak

Back in the mid-1990s, when the Port Authority opened the Newark AirTrain, it was widely viewed as a mess of a project. Trying to buy a customized product from a less-successful company, the Port Authority spent $354 million in mid-1990s dollars on the slow and hulking system with tiny cars and generally not enough capacity they have today. What they didn’t say at the time was that the design life of the system was 25 years, and well, wouldn’t you know, but time flies. That 25 years is almost up, and without a planning process that begins now, the PA will shoot past that deadline with no replacement in sight.

So you would think that the Port Authority would take this opportunity to right a wrong. Perhaps they could double down on Gov. Christie’s pet project — perhaps spurred on by corrupt dealings with United Airlines — and extend the PATH not just to the EWR Amtrak/New Jersey Transit stop but all the way to the airport terminals. Perhaps they’ll learn from the 1990s and not sink untold millions into a project that winds up over budget and years delayed. Or perhaps they already want to spend $70 million on design and technical consultants alone.

In materials released in advance of Thursday’s Port Authority board meeting, the agency unveiled its intentions to do just that. The documents contain a planning authorization for the AirTrain replacement, and the initial expenditures are significant. The PA plans to spend $30 million on technical consultants and $40 million on planning consultants. To cover the latter costs, the Port Authority is going to request permission from the FAA to use Passenger Facility Charges. And what, you may wonder, will they get for their $70 million? Straight from the horse’s mouth:

Currently, AirTrain experiences crowding issues, because demand exceeds capacity during peak periods and weather-induced delays. Although substantial investment has been made to maintain current operations, such investment has not extended the 25-year design life of the system, nor has it expanded capacity.

The proposed planning work would support alternative analysis, conceptual layouts, environmental review, cost estimates, scheduling, financing needs and funding alternatives for the replacement of AirTrain and coordination with other short-term and long-term development at EWR, including the replacement of Terminal A. Professional services would be required to support the planning effort via task orders, through the selection of a contractor(s) to replace the system, at an estimated amount of $30 million. The consultant to support the planning effort for the replacement of the AirTrain system would be retained via a publicly advertised Request for Proposals process, with award to the highest-rated proposer. The consultant contract also would include additional tasks to support the oversight and implementation of the replacement of the AirTrain system through project completion, which would be at an additional cost and subject to future authorization.

Despite a 2011 report that indicated the AirTrain represented a challenge for Newark Airport’s crowds, the Port Authority didn’t include replacement requests in its current $27-billion, 10-year capital plan. Rather, they’re going to spend at least $1-$1.5 billion on a PATH extension and, I’d imagine, at least another half a billion on the AirTrain replacement. At a time when the region is in bad need of a trans-Hudson tunnel and when New York’s Gov. Cuomo wants to spend another billion dollars on a LaGuardia AirTrain, it may be time to step back and consider exactly what we’re getting for our dollars. Does anyone really trust the Port Authority to invest wisely — besides, that is, the consultants who see dollar signs on the horizon?

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Bolwerk April 28, 2015 - 1:13 pm

Politicians who preach fiscal restraint always, without fail, show the least of it. Thank you, Christie and Cuomo.

P.S. The monorail song should be updated for the Bus Rapid Transit jihad.

SEAN April 28, 2015 - 1:34 pm

If that’s what you get for $70 Million, then something is really wrong.

Nathanael May 11, 2015 - 11:57 pm

I’m looking at that number again and going “I could do them a pretty darn good consult for only $1 million.”

D in Bushwick April 28, 2015 - 1:42 pm

Corruption is why we can’t have nice things.

ryan22 April 28, 2015 - 1:44 pm

yes, PATH all the way to terminals would be great. yes, a new airtrain would be great. consulting and planning should not cost $70 million… this is not that difficult.

adirondacker12800 April 28, 2015 - 3:54 pm

There’s not enough demand to run PATH to each of the terminals.

Bolwerk April 28, 2015 - 3:59 pm

You hardly need any. Terminals aren’t supposed to be busy.

Joey April 28, 2015 - 4:34 pm

The shape of the airport does not lend itself well to this. Terminals A and C are too curved to have anything resembling 10 car PATH stations. A single station in the middle of the terminals would be pretty far from the extremities, perhaps too far to be useful.

Eric F April 28, 2015 - 4:43 pm

I think extending PATH to the terminals would be a disaster. PATH has reliability issues all up and down the system. Can you imagine missing a flight because your PATH train was stuck between terminals A and C because of some issue with one of the two lift bridges between Newark and New York?

Bolwerk April 28, 2015 - 10:33 pm

If that’s really a problem, and maybe it is, keep some equipment handy for such an emergency. Assuming some won’t naturally be stranded on the airport side anyway. :-p

lop April 29, 2015 - 11:52 pm

Service to Newark is only every 15 minutes midday, right? Seems like a long time to make people wait for an airport circulator. If you get rid of the monorail and expect the new PATH extension to serve as the circulator, you’d probably have a short train set or two to run between the terminals and parking lots to supplement the train to newark/nyc. So a problem with a lift bridge won’t keep someone from getting from one terminal to another.

Joey April 28, 2015 - 4:38 pm

Combine the two. Build a new people mover and extend it to Newark Penn Station. This gives airport access for PATH, NJT, Amtrak, and Newark Light Rail.

Eric F April 28, 2015 - 4:53 pm

I like the idea of taking the JFK airtrain configuration and extending that to Newark Penn. They could add a level on top of the station and allow connections to the various tracks below. In one swoop, you add full PATH and Amtrak access to the airport and allow Raritan Valley Line trains to connect since they go to Newark Penn but not the AirTrain station. And then they could decommission the Air Train station at the airport, which at this point just slows down trains with an extra stop with long dwell times as people unload luggage. Newark Penn has a long dwell time anyway because it’s a major transfer point so the airport rail connection won’t make much of a difference if any. But I just made that idea up, I don’t know what the design challenges to that would be.

Andrew April 28, 2015 - 11:53 pm

Winner! This is by far the most logical solution. Reallocate the PATH extension money to extending the new Airtrain to Newark. Makes too much sense, so it will never happen. As added bonus it speeds up the NEC by eliminating the newark airport stop.

Alon Levy April 29, 2015 - 9:38 am

Well, it requires an ROW for the trains, but that’s the same requirement as for the PATH extension. It also requires platforms at Newark Penn, but again, not toooooooo hard given expected train length.

adirondacker12800 April 29, 2015 - 3:22 pm

PATH has ROW all the way down to South Street. Which is inadequate for storage when they start running 10 car trains on the Newark World Trade Center line.

Nathanael April 29, 2015 - 9:49 am

Ooh. I agree, this is smart. And it makes Newark Penn the hub, which it should be…

adirondacker12800 April 28, 2015 - 5:46 pm

They want to run ten car trains on the Newark-World Trade Center line. If they extend the storage along McCarter Highway to do that, they are at the airport.

Joey April 28, 2015 - 8:30 pm

If they remove the second crossover and allow trains to be stored on the ramps, then the existing tail tracks have enough space for 12 10-car trains. How many do they need to store?

Joey April 28, 2015 - 8:31 pm

Make that 11, since you need space for turnbacks, but still.

adirondacker12800 April 28, 2015 - 8:39 pm

25% more than they already run on the Newark-World Trade Center line. Add two cars to an 8 car train to make it a 10 car train….

Joey April 29, 2015 - 4:15 pm

Do they store trains in the space between the crossovers? One of which is completely redundant, I would add.

adirondacker12800 April 29, 2015 - 5:06 pm

Until something goes kerfluey during the shoulder periods. Then they are nice to have.

Joey April 29, 2015 - 5:25 pm

And how often does that happen? Can you name another location of any system that has redundant crossovers like that?

adirondacker12800 April 29, 2015 - 5:49 pm

Most places don’t store cars in lineal yards.

Joey April 29, 2015 - 8:22 pm

Linear yards are just elongated tail tracks, which are very common. No one else saw the need for more than one crossover. PATH’s main operational facility is also pretty close to Newark.

adirondacker12800 April 29, 2015 - 6:13 pm

I’m gonna make the radical assumption that since the Port Authority took over the system in 1962 there’s been some track work done west/south of Penn Station and the Port Authority finds them useful now and then.

Rich M April 28, 2015 - 9:01 pm


BoerumHillScott April 29, 2015 - 8:44 am

I agree this is the best idea.

The thing that proponents for sending PATH to the terminals to replace Aitrain forget (in addition to geometry issues) is that a prime purpose of the Airtrain is to connect to parking garages and car rentals, replacing a fleet of shuttle busses.

Eric F April 28, 2015 - 4:48 pm

They are talking about the full design and review process. That process seems to take into account the re-design of the terminals and the future PATH extension. It probably also takes into account keeping the existing tinker toy up and running while the new system is built. I have no idea if that should run $70 million, but it does sound like a lot of work. They could shave some money off the work if the PA didn’t have to go through a NEPA process to replace a monorail in the middle of Newark, but the progressives wanted these laws and so they have them. The P.A. had go through insane permitting and review delays and costs for merely raising the Bayonne Bridge’s deck and replacing the Goethals. That’s one source of waste and delay. And they go through the process and get sued anyway (see Bayonne Bridge enviro suit).

Larry Littlefield April 28, 2015 - 5:31 pm

Ben has already earned the $40 million with this piece alone.

JJJ April 28, 2015 - 5:55 pm

The article mentions a ridership of 30,000 a day.

This will end up costing $1bn. Is it worth it for the ridership of a mid-sized bus line?

A April 28, 2015 - 8:17 pm

Any respectable airport with multiple unconnected terminals in 2015 needs a way to connect them with rail. But it does seem especially short-sighted. In 1996, EWR had about 31M passengers. In 2014, EWR had about 39M passengers and realistically it will not grow much further. So it’s not like it doubled in growth in the past 20 years.

JJJ April 28, 2015 - 8:46 pm

Ive been on the monorail dozens of times, and while the cars are idiotically small, Ive never seen it actually crowded.

Eric F April 29, 2015 - 9:19 am

I routinely see the system at it’s airport station terminus. The monorail cannot handle the crowds that descend from a NY originating train. It takes 2-3 monorails to digest the crowd.

The point above about airport growth is not all that relevant to the monorail configuration. They are probably thinking about percentage of airport users who come by train, not total passengers. The percentage that use the train is still small and it might bump up substantially with a PATH connection, further crowding the system.

Alon Levy April 29, 2015 - 10:00 am

Respectable airports shouldn’t have multiple unconnected terminals, especially not fortress hubs like Newark. If you look at Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt, they do have multiple terminals, but one of them is the dominant one (Terminal 1 at Frankfurt, Terminal 2 at Charles de Gaulle), and moreover airlines are grouped into terminal by alliance, so that passengers don’t have to transfer between terminals. At the dominant terminal there’s a high-speed rail station, while regional rail can serve multiple terminals.

adirondacker12800 April 29, 2015 - 3:32 pm

Newark is United and everybody else. And when the idiot cab driver doesn’t listen when I tell him Terminal A, the first one, and drops me at Terminal C it’s a short ride over to Terminal A.

BruceNY April 28, 2015 - 10:53 pm

How did they ever design a system that was meant to last only 25 years anyway?

Nathanael April 29, 2015 - 9:50 am

Short term thinking!

adirondacker12800 April 29, 2015 - 3:27 pm

I’m sure Roll AG told the Port Authority it was gonna be the greatest thing since sliced bread. And Bombardier regrets it. It’s not the only one to be abandoned. I have no idea why they used whiz bang linear induction on the JFK Airtrain but at least if that proves to be a lemon it can be converted to more conventional streetcars cheaply.

Bolwerk April 29, 2015 - 9:51 am

I was wondering myself. It might just be a contractual limitation of some sort: the vendor probably agreed to provide parts/support for the time.

It’s fucked up in any case. Conventional rail equipment tends to have useful life of 40-50 years. Maybe the debt scolds didn’t want to borrow enough to cover a 40-50 year useful life, and patted themselves on the back for “saving” hardworking airport users by getting something that was only useful for 25 years.

lawhawk April 29, 2015 - 9:52 pm

Beats me why they considered 25 years to be appropriate for that infrastructure; we’re going to be paying for that mistake for years to come. The rebuilt EWR Airtrain had better take into account long term parking (which will save costs and congestion long term from not having to run buses on airport), and should use standardized equipment already in use by PANY – at JFK. Rather than building a completely new system with new/different tech, they’ve already got a reliable system that is well understood and can handle capacity.

But since this is the PANY, fully expect them to reinvent the wheel at 2x the cost and we receive half as much as we should in service/capabilities.

wise infrastructure April 29, 2015 - 11:13 pm

The Newark airtrain was built in an airport that could have reasonably been expected to under go substantial physical and usages changes.

The was also reasonable basis to have expected that transportation technology (maglev or personal pods) could have advanced/become main stram)by now.

Given this, the 25 year life was a wise move as it enabled the next generation to design and implement a solution that matches the usage, physical layout, and technology for the now current time into the future.

I would hate for us to be stuck with a dinosaur because my parents thought that they knew what would exist today and what we we need.

Bolwerk April 30, 2015 - 11:35 am

The was also reasonable basis to have expected that transportation technology (maglev or personal pods) could have advanced/become main stram)by now.

None of those things do anything for an airport circulator monorail or conventional rail doesn’t do. You don’t need speed demon technology to go 2 miles.

Hell, pods? They don’t even do anything a bus doesn’t do.

wise infrastructure April 30, 2015 - 12:15 pm

Actually the pods at heathrow work real well – check them out (i used part of my layover to go joy riding in them)

The point is the they did not know what the future held and we do not know what it will hold.

Maybe 25 year lives are a smart way to go.

adirondacker12800 April 30, 2015 - 12:50 pm

Or Roll AG convinced them that it was going to be better and cheaper than maglev pods and it didn’t work out that way.

Bolwerk April 30, 2015 - 3:30 pm

Unless you think all transit is going to be made obsolete by beaming, 25-year lifespans probably just mean you have to spend a lot of money sooner than later.

Though that can be fine, if ridership justifies it.

adirondacker12800 April 30, 2015 - 5:47 pm

Who knows what the vendor was promising back when they built it. THey knew better when they built the JFK Airtrain.

Bolwerk April 30, 2015 - 6:49 pm

I don’t know the reasoning (I gave a good guess that could be wrong) but I’d guess finding out wouldn’t be that hard if you ask the right people.

adirondacker12800 April 30, 2015 - 7:07 pm

The decision makers are retired or dead. There’s probably stuff buried in the New York Times or the Newark Star Ledger’s archives heralding it’s arrival. I don’t care enough to go look. What happened in the 90s doesn’t make it less of a lemon today. Something like JFK’s Airtrain would make more sense. That can be converted to conventional trolley cars if the whiz bang-y stuff goes out of style.

eo April 29, 2015 - 9:53 am

Easy! The people who came up with the idea and approved the spending at the PA are long retired (some might not be with us any more) and collecting a generous pension. Why would have they cared? Many current decision makers such as the people on the PA board do not care what will happen 4 years from now given that the next governors will flush them out, so give credit to the people in the early 90ties for thinking a quarter of a century ahead :-).

Yeah, I am being sarcastic here, but effectively that is what seems to have happened.

lop April 30, 2015 - 12:20 am

What’s actually breaking down after 25 years? Didn’t the PA just give Bombardier a ten year operations contract back in 2012? That would run past the alleged 25 year lifespan.

Bolwerk April 30, 2015 - 3:33 pm

That probably just means they don’t expect to replace it within that time frame, even if under optimal circumstances they would.

I hear lots of bitching about breakdowns and stuff, but maybe that’s just anecdotal because people like to bitch. But there was also this.

adirondacker12800 April 30, 2015 - 5:51 pm

It was closed for a long time when it was first opened because the heaters in the guideway weren’t brawny enough to melt snow. ( yes there are electric heaters in the “track” to melt the snow and ice. )
They would have been better off if they had bit the bullet, like other operators have, and ripped it out years ago.

LLQBTT April 29, 2015 - 10:45 am

Wait, so PA is extending PATH to EWR rail station, but now, with the golden opportunity simply to now run it directly into the airport, they’re instead going to build another mono rail? Like Disney, except in dreary Newark. Maybe they can have costumed characters waiting to greet us at the terminals?

adirondacker12800 April 29, 2015 - 3:34 pm

There are all sorts of interesting things going on at the airport that don’t involve going to Manhattan. Interterminal transfers, parking, rental cars, shuttle buses, which still need a people mover.

Ryan April 29, 2015 - 11:18 am

If we’re taking potential terminal redesigns into account I am frankly struggling to imagine any sane alternatives to just tearing EWR down and rebuilding directly over the northeast corridor, where EWR Rail Station is right now.

wise infrastructure April 29, 2015 - 1:33 pm

Building for 25 years may not have been irresponsible (as much as second guessing others is easy) as one did not know what conditions would exist in 25 years. They built a cheaper system and saved millions in related interest charges for a system that then served the purpose. The goal was a better system but at the time it was not doable – let’s see if it is now. In short – they did not stick us with an insufficient system for 50 years nor did they over build for the needs at the time.

josh January 27, 2016 - 10:14 am

where are you getting $70 million from? i saw that they expect a total cost of $40MM ($30MM for professional services, $5MM for staff costs, $5MM for agency allocations), and they’re going to apply for a grant for the $40MM.

Benjamin Kabak January 27, 2016 - 10:17 am

This is a 9-month old post, but it is right here if you read it: “The PA plans to spend $30 million on technical consultants and $40 million on planning consultants.”


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