Home Gateway Tunnel Cuomo, Christie offer the feds a 50-50 split on a trans-Hudson rail tunnel (but it may not be Gateway)

Cuomo, Christie offer the feds a 50-50 split on a trans-Hudson rail tunnel (but it may not be Gateway)

by Benjamin Kabak
A glimpse at the Gateway Project area. Click to enlarge. (Via Amtrak)

Will New Jersey and New York fund Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel or something else similar but of its own creation? (Map via Amtrak)

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are fighting over everything transit these days as part of their Albany-City Hall feud, Cuomo has found a transit ally across the river in an unlikely source. On Tuesday, he and Gov. Chris Christie told the feds they were willing to pay for part of a new trans-Hudson tunnel. They didn’t quite endorse Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel project, and this may become a key point soon. But for two governors who haven’t show much willingness to support any transit project, this latest development is one we should welcome with open arms even if we need to maintain a healthy bit of skepticism about it.

In discussion his new-found support a few hours after sending a letter co-signed with Christie to the feds, Cuomo uttered one of the better quotes of this whole debate. “It is inarguable that the tunnel has to be built,” he said. “There’s only one tunnel now. It’s leaking. There have been significant delays because trains get stuck in the tunnel. It has to be done today. Everyone says that. Senators, congressmen, short people, tall people. Everyone says it has to be built.”

So as short people and tall people finally find a reason to come together, Christie and Cuomo have too. Their letter [pdf] is a thing of beauty. It’s the most conditional of condition support with so many conditions attached that their plan has essentially done away with Gateway without saying as much. As they say, “the obstacle to progress is funding,” and the two governors are finally ready to deal with what they peg is a $20 billion price tag. (Keep that number in mind and revisit Alon Levy’s August post on costs.)

The two wrote to President Barack Obama:

“We are writing jointly in an attempt to move the stalled project forward by putting a funding proposal on the table that we believe is realistic, appropriate and fair: split the responsibility for the cost. If the federal government will provide grants to pay for half of the cost of the project, the Port Authority, New York and New Jersey will take responsibility for developing a funding plan for the other half, convening all relevant agencies, and utilizing the proposed federal low-interest loan, local funding sources, and other funding strategies necessary to complement the federal grant commitment. This funding framework is comparable to previous structures proposed for a new tunnel.

Due to the nature of this project and to make it a reality on a timely basis, we would also need the federal government to expedite all environmental and planning approvals, as we will on our side. New Jersey will also make available all the planning work accomplished during discussion on the ARC tunnel.

At our direction, the Port Authority is prepared to take the lead in this effort, and is prepared to take Senator Schumer’s suggestion to create a dedicated staff and an entity within the Port Authority to develop such a plan and to get the right agencies and parties involved.”

Do you see this brilliance? Cuomo and Christie have completely twisted Schumer’s intentions to fit their Port Authority fiefdom. New York’s Senator had intentionally eschewed the Port Authority here and had called upon the states to create a new agency. Instead, Christie and Cuomo are willing to add a department to their favorite patronage body to funnel $10 billion in federal funds to their states. It’s the best sleight of hand since Keyser Soze surfaced only to disappear again.

Meanwhile, Cuomo and Christie — and then Cuomo later on in a press gaggle — pointed out numerous times that Amtrak’s ownership of the tunnels was a concern. If you read their entire letter, not once do they mention the Gateway Tunnel as the endpoint of this project. In fact, Amtrak is acknowledged only once, as the owner of the current tunnel, and as far as Cuomo and Christie are concerned, they can keep that tunnel. The northeast wants it tunnel and control of the project. “We assure you,” the two wrote to Obama, “that, if we have the funding, we will get it done. Our shovels are ready!”

Interestingly, as I noted, the word “Gateway” makes no appearances in this letter, but the two acknowledge the need to facilitate a northeast high speed rail corridor. The ARC tunnel, in the form of planning documents, makes an appearance, and I’ve heard some whispers that the New York and New Jersey delegations may wish to revisit ARC’s Alt G plan that saw through-running from Penn Station to Grand Central via dedicated tracks that could be used for high speed rail. It’s not a sure deal, but neither is Gateway as planned and conceived by Amtrak.

So today, short and tall people alike are cheering Christie and Cuomo for coming to the table. It’s barely an accomplishment, but it’s part of the way forward. Can the feds find $10 billion? Can New York and New Jersey find $5 billion each? The feds are ready to deal and say they will “engage with local officials immediately to initiate the work necessary to assign more reliable cost figures and eligibility for federal grants within existing programs.” Cuomo is no longer saying “it’s not my tunnel,” and that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel may be a watt or two stronger right now. There’s a long way, and at least $20 billion, to go, but this is a first step, albeit a very political one.

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johndmuller September 16, 2015 - 12:59 am

Good politicians don’t stick out their necks unless they think that they have the votes lined up. Desperate politicians, on the other hand might go for a Hail Mary if they were, for example, trying to bolster a fading aspiration for higher office.

Who is the tall one and who is the short one and as for the desperate one, . . .

The question of whether or not Obama is one of them is also an important one, as he may not have the same tally of votes and may or may not care to use any of his diminishing supply of clout on this issue, depending on how he reads the tea leaves.

As for the plan itself, it sounds salable at least and maybe workable if the Feds are willing to come up with that 50%.

The Port Authority thing will allow the Guv’s to divide up the states shares however they want by funding other projects in favor of whichever state they deem to need extra political cover to balance out whatever perceptions of inequality might result from this deal.

Nyland8 September 16, 2015 - 7:22 am

Bu … bu … bu … but wasn’t that roughly New Jersey’s share of the ARC project to begin with ?? !! ?? The damned thing would have been open in a couple of years if it wasn’t for Christie having his head buried so far up his ideological ass. If I recall, the ARC project was expected, even with Christie’s magical cost overruns, to have come in at around 13 billion total – and now the cost of the proposed package is expected to be done at 20 BILLION ??

As much as we can argue the need for new trans-Hudson rail access, the argument is even stronger for needing a new pair of governors.

Marc Shepherd September 16, 2015 - 8:55 am

As I recall, Christie’s complaint was that NJ would bear the brunt of cost overruns. Knowing transit projects in this region, you have to think those overruns would have been in the billions.

I’m as big a transit advocate as anyone, but ARC was a terrible design, with no track connection to Penn Station and no access for Amtrak. The fact it was cancelled is a blessing in disguise, as it allowed a do-over.

I am happy to hear that “Alternative G” could be back on the table. To build those tunnels without a through connection for high-speed rail would be as dumb as building the replacement Tappan Zee Bridge without transit. Oh, wait…..

Eric F September 16, 2015 - 9:19 am

Given the insane time and cost overruns that have occurred with deep cavern projects (East Side Access, Seattle’s viaduct replacement), I’d rather they blow out Penn Station, add trackage close to the surface, and then provision to tack on a Penn bypass to GCT. I can see the deep cavern aspect of ARC/Alt G becoming a time and cost sink that lasts a generation.

Marc Shepherd September 16, 2015 - 9:43 am

If you do it at all, it has to be a deep cavern. Closer to the surface, there is too much existing infrastructure you’d have to disrupt, and it is just not going to happen.

A “provision” for a future connection to GCT is nearly equivalent to saying “not in our lifetimes”. Look at all of the “provisions” built into the NYC subway system for future service that never got built.

Most of the time, when you allow a “provision” for something to happen later, it doesn’t.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 10:55 am

AIUI, the provision to get to GCT survives because a provision for PATH to get to GCT survives along the potential ROW. The IND deliberately blocked PATH from ever using it, but another RR could.

JohnS September 16, 2015 - 2:25 pm

The Bertha nightmare here in Seattle is not a deep cavern issue. The TBM is nowhere near the “deep bore” portion of the program, and the issues hit have far more to do with trying to dig the world’s largest single-bore tunnel through century-old fill in the midst of water seepage than anything you’d see in Manhattan.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 9:59 am

A blessing for whom? NJ is paying as much as before, if not more, and now NYS will have to pay that much too.

Through-tracking is nice, but hardly essential. Amtrak needs one track to maintain service levels. ARC was flawed, but we’d (even Governor Pudgykins’ state) still have been better off gettting it over with.

Marc Shepherd September 16, 2015 - 10:25 am

A blessing for whom?

A blessing for those who want to improve the transit network. I mean, other than doing nothing, they chose literally the worst option of those considered.

To spend all that money and NOT get a connection to Grand Central is just insane.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 10:49 am

It was the worst option, but the worst option still worked. It was sort of affordable and New York wasn’t on the hook for it. In a pinch, Amtrak needs one track, and NJ would have had its own.

I’d love to see through-running, but none of the railroads seem to want it.

Marc Shepherd September 16, 2015 - 11:05 am

It was sort of affordable and New York wasn’t on the hook for it.

But New Jersey WAS on the hook, which was Christie’s complaint, with which I kinda/sorta agree. I didn’t agree with re-purposing all the money for roads, but he was right that the funding was inequitable.

To suggest that New York gets no benefits from a new tunnel (and therefore shouldn’t be paying for any of it) is taking a pretty narrow point of view, a point of view that ultimately failed.

I’d love to see through-running, but none of the railroads seem to want it.

If you look back at the analysis before Alternative G was killed, it is patently untrue that “none” of the railroads wanted it.

I have no idea if it’s true that Amtrak needs only one track. It sounds unbelievable. Bear in mind that if you build it the right way, a lot of useful routes become possible that today are not (e.g., the Empire Service no longer needs to terminate at Penn Station).

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 11:25 am

Duh, New Jersey should be on the hook if New Jersey Transit wants more capacity. Alt G wasn’t through-running. It simply moves some NJT trains to GCT. NJT, admittedly the least hostile stakeholder (I think), isn’t exactly clamoring to go to LIRR or MNRR territory, which would be through-running. Amtrak runs a few trains per hour. It needs one track to maintain current service. The rest of the direct benefits of new trackage go New Jersey Transit.

Equitable or not, New Jersey is now begging to pay more than it would have paid for ARC to get, for all practical purposes, the same thing, and then have NYS pay the same amount on top of that! That’s just cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face stupid, for them and us.

Marc Shepherd September 16, 2015 - 3:47 pm

New Jersey should be on the hook if New Jersey Transit wants more capacity.

This is deeply silly, on multiple levels. New York wants and needs the New Jersey work force. Workers and visitors coming into New Jersey contribute to the New York economy.

Also, the project allows Metro-North service to come into Penn Station and additional Amtrak service, neither of which is possible.

And finally, at some point the existing tunnels will need to be shut down for long-term maintenance, which would be a transit disaster if no new tunnels are built.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 4:32 pm

We can’t even manage full employment of our own labor force. Until there is a big economic boom, we really don’t need New Jersey’s. It’s silly for us to pay for New Jersey’s transit, especially knowing that New Jersey and the Feds would eventually buckle and pay for it.

I’m for the tunnel, but New York has more critical projects to focus on for itself. Any one of them would do us more good than buying New Jersey a tunnel. Cuomo is an idiot.

adirondacker12800 September 16, 2015 - 5:10 pm

Okay, all those people crowding onto trains can just take jobs in Philadelphia. Which takes their tax money along with them. And all their clients.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 6:31 pm

Good luck with that. The highly paid ones aren’t going anywhere. It’s the plebes who would suffer.

SEAN September 16, 2015 - 7:41 pm

OK – time out for both of you!

Now kiss & make up. On second thought, forget the kissing part.

We all agree the new tunnels are nessessary, so lets get it done & stop the bullshit.

adirondacker12800 September 16, 2015 - 9:40 pm

They’ve been leaving for decades.

adirondacker12800 September 16, 2015 - 3:02 pm

He lied about about how much it was going to cost and he lied about who was going to pay for it.
In 2040 or 2050 Amtrak needs two tracks from Philadelphia to New Haven. Assuming a high speed rail network for 600 miles out.

Eric F September 16, 2015 - 11:54 am

“NJ is paying as much as before”

NJ would now have a discrete share of a more realistically cost-estimated project. I have no idea if this is going anywhere, but this deal, if accepted by the feds, is a very different animal. I recall the 2009 deal had the feds chipping in a comical $3 billion.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 2:46 pm

WTF are you talking about? Is it opposite day? ARC was a vetted project and its costs were understood. This new proposal is the one with no concrete estimate.

ARC financing at project closure looked like: the feds were planning to offer $4.4 billion from several different program sources. The PA was kicking in $3 billion. NJT was supposed to kick in about $1.2 billion (from the Turnpike). That amounts to a project cost of $8.6 billion. The least generous inflation risk was a range between that about around $12 billion.

OK, basically I do stand corrected for making an overly cautious comment above: under no circumstances would New Jersey have ever paid as much for ARC as it is offering as a baseline for a new tunnel today.

Eric F September 16, 2015 - 3:23 pm

Right, you find my lack of faith in the prior cost estimates disturbing.

Yet somehow, no transit project in the area — including the ones obsessively tracked by this website — has come in anywhere near it’s time and cost estimate and the federal second look has changed the estimate for this project from 9 billion to 25 billion.

But, I know, “Rethuglicans” and all that.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 4:46 pm

No, lack of faith would be one thing. I find your faith in obvious lies bewildering. Especially since the GAO detailed this estimate with a (IMHO rather generous/cautious) project inflation risk assessment. I wouldn’t even call that report flattering to the project or NJT, but the doomsaying cost explosion excuse was nothing more than an ex post facto rationale for doing something stupid.

Christie’s claims on the matter had other liesdubious presumptions built in too, like the claim that NJT would have automatically been on the hook for overruns. That was never part of any financing deal. So, basically, NJ was in a good position to renegotiate in the event of cost overruns.

Larry Greenfield September 16, 2015 - 7:33 am

It’s a huge mistake to involve the Port Authority in this deal in any way. It’s time to get rid of the Port Authority and its opaque and corrupt practices, not expand its influence.

Phantom September 16, 2015 - 7:43 am

Agree with Larry big time.

The Port Authority needs to be utterly reformed, or replaced by something lean and focused. Not involved in any real estate projects that have nothing to do with transit.

I can’t imagine any agency in the US that is worse than this one.

Is there an bistate model anywhere that can be used as a model to aspire to?

AG September 16, 2015 - 4:34 pm

What exactly in government is “lean and focused”…. I’ve been trying hard to find any in this country!!

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 7:24 pm

Most things probably, unless they involve construction or murdering people.

Nathanael September 20, 2015 - 5:36 am

Social Security Administration is super-lean (too lean) and super-focused.

Just for one really obvious example.

Most things in government are less lean and focused than THAT, but they’re still pretty damn lean and pretty damn focused. The EPA is a world model for lean and focused, despite having a sprawling set of responsibilities for all kinds of problems nationwide.

AG September 20, 2015 - 11:28 am

I’m sorry but that is a joke… On both counts.

Alex September 16, 2015 - 8:25 am

Wouldn’t building to Grand Central require PANYNJ to at least have a partner? Grand Central has massive capacity for return of Amtrak, though that needs congress and a complete rethinking of NEC alternative visions.

SEAN September 16, 2015 - 8:56 am

OK, let me ask the gallery who know a lot more than I do on this subject – if alt G is implemented, how do the trains reach GCT & where do they stop? I would assume on the lower level? That would require the displacement of the passageway at the end of the platforms along with the elevators, stairs & storage unless they only use tracks 113-117 witch are offset somewhat from tracks 100-112.

tacony September 16, 2015 - 9:20 am

I assume 113-117 alone would be enough. CGT itself has more than enough spare capacity. It has the most platforms of any train station in the world! (Yet not even in the top 10 in actual passenger volume.)

eo September 16, 2015 - 9:23 am

Tracks 116-117 do not exist any more. They were demolished to make space for ESA.

eo September 16, 2015 - 9:28 am

As were all tracks higher than 117. The lower level loop is also gone.

Benjamin Kabak September 16, 2015 - 10:01 am

You should doublecheck that.

Marc Shepherd September 16, 2015 - 10:35 am

Wikipedia says that tracks 116-125 “will be” demolished. It makes no statement about the lower-level loop track (it says there are “several” of them, not just one).

rj September 16, 2015 - 11:09 am

The Lower level loop track (track 200 on GCT maps, not to be confused with ESA 200/300 levels) is not completely gone.
The Eastern ~5/8 of the track still exists, is powered, and is still used for storing trains. The west half is gone, and is “unrecoverable” as the ESA concourse will be taking its place.

It’s not clear to me what all exists between track 200 and track 101. There’s a number of storage rooms, and some power equipment between 101 and 200, separating the two by 100 feet or more (200 is significantly east of 101). If I had to guess, I’d expect that the “development” between 200 and 101 is not movable, and there wouldn’t be space to make more tracks or an infill platform off of track 200.

There is a much older loop which connected tracks 101/102/103 with the Madison ave/west side tracks. This “ROW” still mostly exists, and there is still evidence of tracks/ties in a few places. This “ROW” meets track 200 at the southernmost point of their respective ROWs. Suprisingly, this ROW contains very little “development”. There is some storage, but nothing that can’t be moved (as far as I can tell) in the eastern half of the smaller loop.

I don’t know the relative depths of the 7/456/shuttle, but if the LL loop is accessible, there could be opportunity to connect up tracks 200/101/102/103 to whatever connection gets built. There’s alot of empty space in this part of the terminal..

rj September 16, 2015 - 4:58 pm

Double checked:
Track 101 connects back to 200 without much in the way. Tracks 102 and 103 have some significant things blocking them from accessing the back of the loop/200. I think it can still be mostly relocated, but it’d be more expensive than just for track 101. Still no significant structural modifications to the terminal as far as I can tell.

AMH September 18, 2015 - 3:03 pm

There’s definitely still an operating loop track. I recently took a tour of the control room and we watched the track diagram as a train ran around the loop (an unusual event, they said).

AMH September 18, 2015 - 4:57 pm

There is definitely at least one loop track in operation. I took a tour of the control center recently and we watched the board as a train ran around the loop (a rare event, they said).

eo September 16, 2015 - 11:18 am

You are right. I meant the tracks west of 117 that were taken for ESA and forgot that these are not all tracks with higher numbers.

Larry Littlefield September 16, 2015 - 9:07 am

This has nothing to do with transportation, which no one around Christie or Cuomo knows about or understands. Other than the fact that if disaster happens, it will be after they are gone.

It is all about management of the blame.

LLQBTT September 16, 2015 - 9:08 am

Larry, Moe, Curly and Shemp!

eo September 16, 2015 - 9:14 am

This is all political posturing designed to make the governors look good because they are “trying” to do something. The Feds cannot find $10B in grants for this. Period. Any attempt by the Obama Administration and the NY/NJ senators will be branded “pork spending” by Congress and will not pass. The only way it will pass is if the current tunnels fail.

Using whatever is salvageable from ARC is a good idea, but I recall that shortly after ARC was cancelled information was leaked that the Christie Administration destroyed all relevant records. If that is true there is not much to salvage.

I cannot stress this enough — people need to forget Alt-G. It is not happening for anything short of $100B. Yes that one has two zeros after the one. While feasible from engineering standpoint, it is way, way too expensive to connect into Grand Central from the south. The underpinning (and “overpinning”) of the 4/5/6, the 7, Grand Central itself, the new LIRR concourse and tail tracks, the water tunnel, the existing East River tunnels and related work at Penn Station are just damn too expensive. I understand that not everyone is an engineer and/or has experience in the construction industry, but with labour costs what they are here and regulations what they are in the US it is not happening for less than $100B. Keep in mind that the major challenge is that the construction will need to keep all the subways and commuter trains operational during construction and that is at least a factor of 2 in the cost.

I would not worry too much about the fact that Gateway is not mentioned. There is no way for the Environmental Study to come out with the preferred alternative being anything else than Gateway or something equivalent to it. The subway to Secaucus fails to achieve the comparable benefits in terms of capacity and travel time. Tunnel to downtown will fail to connect on its east end to the existing network. And good luck finding an uncongested highway to connect another highway tunnel to on the NJ side or a neighbourhood in Manhattan that will welcome the resulting traffic.

The governors might not mention Amtrak in an attempt to wrestle ownership away from them, but that is a steep hill to climb. A tunnel that connects to Amtrak’s infrastructure on both ends (NY Penn and someplace east of Newark Penn) and owned by someone else is not going to happen — the dispatch, maintenance and everything else is so interrelated that it is a nightmare just to consider keeping the tunnel under different ownership. Maybe formally the states can own it and lease it to Amtrak in a perpetual lease …

But I digress, the purpose of this is to point the blame to the Feds, so that Cuomo and Christie look good. The Obama administration cannot find the money without an act of Congress and Republicans in Congress will not miss the chance to stick it to a region that they never have the chance of winning in first place. So chill out and enjoy your regularly delayed commute trying to cross the Hudson …

Marc Shepherd September 16, 2015 - 3:48 pm

This is all political posturing designed to make the governors look good because they are “trying” to do something. The Feds cannot find $10B in grants for this.

Unfortunately, this is most likely true.

Eric F September 16, 2015 - 4:08 pm

Assume a 10 year project. If so, that’s $1 billion of fed dollars per year and $500 million per year from each state. Seems doable to me. If it’s a bluff, I sure hope it’s one that’s called.

Marc Shepherd September 17, 2015 - 8:35 am

Assume a 10 year project. If so, that’s $1 billion of fed dollars per year…Seems doable to me.

Yeah, assuming that’s the only “extra” thing the Feds have to pay for. It doesn’t work that way. Congress has members from the 48 other states, most of whom get no benefit, or very little benefit, from a new tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey. Many members are going to say, “If NY/NJ get a billion a year, then what does my state get?”

Beyond that are members (mostly Republicans, who control the majority), who simply believe philosophically that the Federal government shouldn’t be paying for this stuff. You can pretty easily come up with a long list of hundreds of items that are pretty important to someone, and justify the expense by saying “it’s only a billion.” Approve enough of those, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

There are probably some members (mostly Democrats) from other Northeast Corridor states who would be sympathetic, but that’s still not nearly enough to get you to a majority in Congress.

AG September 17, 2015 - 10:03 pm

Well that’s the problem. They are wrong to think they get no benefit. In fact – in spite of what they tell the citizens of their own state – they know that NY/NJ and the NEC subsidize THEM every day of the year because we all pay DC much more in taxes than we get in return. Almost as dumb as some saying upstate NY should secede from NYC and it’s suburbs.

Ryan September 16, 2015 - 8:49 pm

Okay, I’ll bite. On what are you actually basing this $100B price tag? What other underpinning/overpinning projects are you using to base that figure on? What sort of formula did you use to scale up?

Nobody is saying that Alt-G is going to be cheap, but it’s certainly not going to end up costing $100 billion dollars.

Eric F September 16, 2015 - 9:42 am

I guess there seems to be some sort of bias towards finding the dark side of everything, but Christie and Cuomo just advanced to a key milestone. NJ is promising real money for this project and Cuomo is promising NY funds, which is the first time NY funds have ever been promised to the project. Not sure why your not planning on throwing a big part. Seriously, isn’t this huge?

Benjamin Kabak September 16, 2015 - 10:00 am

This is a pretty celebratory post that analyzes how the two have approached this issue, successfully, on their own teams. Of course it’s huge, but it’s step one in a long process that involves a lot of money and a very ambiguous price tag.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 10:03 am

It just shows NYS is more willing to spend money on New Jersey than New York City. A coup for New Jersey, but not for us.

Larry Littlefield September 16, 2015 - 11:00 am

True enough.

Eric F September 16, 2015 - 11:52 am

“A coup for New Jersey…”

We’re all connected and interdependent on this blue-green marble. NY needs the connection as well.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 2:48 pm

Anyone here can probably name 10 projects that would be better for NYS than this. Many of them would cost less.

Marc Shepherd September 16, 2015 - 3:38 pm

Okay, I am game. Name your 10.

Eric F September 16, 2015 - 3:49 pm

9 of them are citibike racks in Williamsburg.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 5:01 pm

Isn’t that already done? And privately financed?

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 5:01 pm

If we’re going to spend $5 billion dollars? Old plans like Nostrand Avenue, Utica Avenue, some sort of cross-Bronx subway, or rail to Staten Island, and the Queens Blvd super-express all fill important missing pieces in our transit network. That’s five.

Triborough RX is pretty shovel ready, but not sure about the cost. Rockaway Branch reactivation is even cheaper. That’s seven.

Less useful to city planning, but still capable of moving more New Yorkers than Hudson River tunnels do every day: Vision 42, North Shore Light Rail (or even BRT, if we want to waste money!), some sort of 7 Train expansion beyond Flushing makes ten.

Bonus: I didn’t even mention the SAS!

adirondacker12800 September 16, 2015 - 5:25 pm

Everybody else is eyeing the Triborough ROW. Metro North wants to use it for trains to Penn Station. The rest of New England wants to use it for trains to Washington DC. And freight. Long Island too.

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 7:30 pm

It can probably support all those uses anyway, though the Brooklyn segment is probably piss-poor for DC-bound trips. Unless the cross-harbor freight project gets more interesting.

adirondacker12800 September 16, 2015 - 9:47 pm

No it can’t.

Henry September 16, 2015 - 10:35 pm

Most of the ROW is wide enough for four tracks, and the freight rail is never going to need four tracks for the entire length of the Bay Ridge Branch. In places where it isn’t, short lengths of tunnel or elevated track are not going to blast the budget.

Granted, the project only really makes sense from Jackson Heights to Bay Ridge. The Bronx segment doesn’t have a super useful use-case, since that connection is way too far west to be useful to the majority of Bronx-Queens commuters, and anyone trying to head to the Bronx from Brooklyn and vice versa can already do so in a reasonable amount of time.

Joey September 17, 2015 - 12:48 am

Even if the cross harbor tunnel is built, it’s hard to justify dedicated freight tracks on Triboro ROW. No matter which way you go, you end up at tracks which are passenger-primary. There are a few freight spurs in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx for which this isn’t the case, but they don’t really justify dedicated tracks all by themselves.

adirondacker12800 September 17, 2015 - 2:34 am

How do 20 freight trains a day share the tracks with frequent subway service?

Joey September 18, 2015 - 1:14 am

Where exactly are those 20 trains per day going? There aren’t that many destinations available to them.

adirondacker12800 September 18, 2015 - 3:21 am

New England? 7 million people live on Long Island. They use a lot of drywall, concrete, beer, lumber and make a lot of garbage.

Henry September 18, 2015 - 2:14 pm

Those 20 trains a day can be scheduled for off-peak or overnight hours. Freight trains should not be entering the five boroughs during the middle of the day for deliveries, anyways. And 20 freight trains a day is nothing; the Techapi Loop handles 40 trains a day on a single track, and Chicago sees 1300 trains pass through the area. Block out four rush-hour periods, have one freight train an hour run non-stop through the area, and you should be fine. Additionally, since most of the ROW is 4-tracked, you only really need to share tracks in super-congested areas like the Hell Gate ROW.

Nathanael September 20, 2015 - 5:46 am

Joey: if the cross harbor tunnel is built, its primary purposes are:
(1) Unloading ships at the Ports of Brooklyn and transferring them to trains heading for the mainland. For this, freight comes through the tunnel and immediately reverses to get to the docks.
(2) Moving containers to and from a container unloading yard somewhere in Queens (probably near Newtown Creek) rather than trucking them across Manhattan or Staten Island. For this, freight runs up the Bay Ridge Branch until it gets to the Lower Montauk Branch, then takes that.

This is all freight-primary tracks.

Currently the Port of Brooklyn is badly underused because of the inability to transfer stuff to rail from the ships. All the ships dock in New Jersey instead for this reason.

Nathanael September 20, 2015 - 5:51 am

There’s room for 4 tracks for the entire distance from the docks to the Lower Montauk, with a couple of possible exceptions at tunnels where I can’t really tell from Google Maps. (Broadway Junction is the main potential problem. The passenger route could go up in the air there: there’s enough disused elevated structure.)

johndmuller September 16, 2015 - 6:16 pm

I imagine that the Governors are planning on letting the Port Authority do most of the paying of states share on their behalf. It’s not at all clear to me how one does the transform into the coordinates of which state the PA’s money came from – and I think that is just how the Guv’s like it. Either of them can cast the split into whatever pleases them and their constituents and who is to gainsay them?

Getting the Fed money could be trickier, especially if one needs to get it committed all at once at the beginning. There are, of course a number of pots of money to tap, and as someone said above, $1B per year is not that hard so impossible to find; even easier in Uncle Sam’s seat cushions. Thus, somebody (Amtrak?) might need to at least appear to be borrowing some of the money, although one hopes that they don’t get stuck with huge debts like the MBTA ended up with w/r the Big Dig. Alternatively, perhaps Senator Schumer’s new Authority could step in for Uncle and do the borrowing for some the Fed’s half (interesting to see how that Authority would be funded).

Bolwerk September 16, 2015 - 7:06 pm

I haven’t checked in a while, and won’t now from Bolt Bus, but I think the PA is pretty over-leveraged at this point. When Christie boned ARC, the governors swooped in any blew the pot on road projects.

Really I wish the feds would just pay for the damn thing without us. It’s scarcely a flea on the dog’s ass that is the federal budget. Ostensibly it benefits the whole region anyway, not just New York and New Jersey.

SEAN September 16, 2015 - 7:59 pm

Really I wish the feds would just pay for the damn thing without us. It’s scarcely a flea on the dog’s ass that is the federal budget. Ostensibly it benefits the whole region anyway, not just New York and New Jersey.

True – if this discussion was about spending money on the war machine, most polls wouldn’t bat an eyelash. But since this is on transit that nobody of importance uses, it’s declared a waist of money.

Henry September 16, 2015 - 10:38 pm

The Port has its hands full with the airport redevelopments. Granted, depending on what happens with the SEC investigating its Pulsaki Skyway funding, and whether or not the PATH to EWR project is thrown out in the wake of that United scandal, there might be some money left over. But that’s probably going to head to the replacment of PABT, which is going to cost $1B even if you ignore those ridiculous $10B cost estimates.

BDawe September 18, 2015 - 3:57 am

Why? What’s ARC 2 going to move? Let’s be generous and say that additional ridership is 80,000.

How hard is it to find 80,000 riders with $20,000,000,000 in other projects?

Bolwerk September 18, 2015 - 2:34 pm

Not sure who DBawe is responding to, but it could move a lot more people. What it won’t do is move very many New Yorkers. Not trying to be mean or anything, but it just doesn’t make sense for NYS to fund it. It makes sense for us to smooth the way to building it.

A new tunnel is probably necessary regardless of ridership because the old ones need expensive rehabilitation. Still only barely NYS’s problem.

adirondacker12800 September 18, 2015 - 3:35 pm

How do New Yorkers get to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC?

Bolwerk September 18, 2015 - 5:10 pm

Hurr, by the one agency with guaranteed access to the tunnel no matter what happens?


adirondacker12800 September 18, 2015 - 5:41 pm

If NJtransit isn’t running trains anymore they won’t be making payments to Amtrak anymore either. $1,000 fares on the Regionals will dampen demand for those tickets.

Bolwerk September 19, 2015 - 12:18 am

Really? Is NJT’s fee for using the NEC even covering the cost of NJT’s wear and tear on the NEC?

Are you making stuff up? AGAIN?

adirondacker12800 September 19, 2015 - 1:47 am

yes it does.

Bolwerk September 19, 2015 - 10:46 am

{{citation needed}}

adirondacker12800 September 19, 2015 - 1:20 pm

Yes you do need a citation that NJTransit, SEPTA and MARC pay less than what it costs Amtrak to provide service. Power managers, CTC staff, bridge tenders etc. get paid by the hour, not piecework.

Nathanael September 20, 2015 - 5:53 am

NJT pays substantially less to Amtrak than the cost imposed by NJT on the Amtrak network. Honestly “next to nothing” would be a good description of what NJT pays.

That’s supposed to change, there’s a committee set up to determine charges, but right now NJT gets a very good deal. NJT has been complaining…

Bolwerk September 20, 2015 - 10:25 am

I remember the Bush administration went after commuter railroads using Amtrak’s network. Their fees were pretty low at the time, but I don’t remember what NJT was paying (if anything).

I think they had little luck and ended up just keeping the status quo.

Nyland8 September 16, 2015 - 3:49 pm

It’s worth not losing sight of the fact that the new project, like ARC, will have a loop out in Secaucus for NJTransit’s “Main Line” and “Bergen Line” … which means that it serves both Rockland and Orange Counties in New York State. Never underestimate the political rationalizations for offering up-staters a one-seat ride to midtown.

ARC, for all its limitations, was a very good project for NJ and NY. As for running into GCT, MetroNorth already has a better working relationship with NJTransit than it does with its sister, the LIRR. MetroNorth runs its trains through New Jersey every day.

lawhawk September 17, 2015 - 11:49 am

There are times when I have to throw my hands up and wonder at the hypocrisy, self-serving/self-dealing with politicians.

Cuomo and Christie couldn’t care about mass transit, up until someone on their staff reminded them of a few million voters who rely on it daily. Even then, they wouldn’t care except for how it might expand their power politically. That’s why they’re looking to freeze out the Schumer plan (which IIRC would actually result in NY and NJ paying a lower share of the cost for Gateway) and instead want the project funneled through the Port Authority, which is a morass of patronage and scandal that the governors have collectively refused to address in any meaningful manner by opposing legislative efforts in Trenton and Albany to restructure the authority.

They’re trying to shut out Amtrak, which owns the existing tunnels and for what end?

This keeps coming back to the provincalism and bureaucratic morass that has kept anything from being done for decades – expanding mass transit service, all while giving a veneer that the governors are for something that they’ve repeatedly shown no interest in.

If the governors now claim that they’ve got the money available to make this happen – force their hand. Use the existing ALT-G ARC plans, and expedite the approvals. Utilize as much of the pre-canceled ARC as possible and get this going.

All this talk is just that. Talk. And every day that they let this pass, the talk gets more expensive.

Roadcruiser1 September 18, 2015 - 1:39 am

No Politician will do anything about this. The ship has longed sailed like the Tenth Avenue Station. Once they do it will be, because one of the two current Hudson River Tunnels failed, and kills 1,200+ people. After that there will be a Criminal Investigation, and then our Lousy Politicians will do anything about these tunnels.

JJJJ September 18, 2015 - 2:19 pm

Does the track between Grand Central and Stamford allow for shorter running times than the current route used by the Acela? That is, using the same technology, is there a time benefit?

BDawe September 19, 2015 - 3:48 pm

Grand Central doesn’t use the same technology, since Grand Central is all third rail. New Haven trains have to be dual-power

j.b. diGriz September 18, 2015 - 3:58 pm

The thing that struck me first when I heard this was that it would be used as a wedge by Cuomo to eschew resolving the overall MTA budget gap. He didn’t claim where the money was going to come from for either need, and I can just see him playing chicken with the city over ‘well we needed 5 billion to go towards the tunnels, so you need to figure out something for the other thing’.


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