Home Gateway Tunnel Report: Feds, NY, NJ may create new entity to oversee Gateway construction

Report: Feds, NY, NJ may create new entity to oversee Gateway construction

by Benjamin Kabak

Amtrak wants a tunnel through Port Authority's jurisdiction. A third party may emerge to claim this turf battle.

As momentum grows to move forward on the Gateway Tunnel, an interesting and obvious turf battle is taking shape. According to a story published late on Friday, our region’s politician are working out a deal for a new trans-Hudson tunnel that may lead the much-maligned Port Authority to be a participant rather than a leader on this project. Considering how much of what the PA has touched lately has turned to lead, it’s a plus to keep their hands off this project as much as possible, and the move seems to indicate a certain lack of trust federal officials have in this bi-state entity right now.

Dana Rubinstein and David Giambusso broke the story on Politco New York. The two write:

Multiple sources have told POLITICO New York the two states, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and federal officials are now hammering out a framework for a new entity dedicated solely to building the project. Negotiations are continuing, but one source said the entity’s board would likely be populated by two Port Authority representatives, one representative from Amtrak and another from the federal transportation department. The structure of the board is still in flux, the source said…

According to several sources knowledgeable about the state of discussions, the various parties are now negotiating the terms of a compromise. A final proposed framework is expected to be agreed upon soon, according to one of those sources. Neither governor responded to a request for comment. [New York Senator Chuck] Schumer’s spokesman, Angelo Roefaro, would only say that since his speech in August, the senator has been meeting with stakeholders “to make the case for a separate authority.”

While the Port Authority’s reputation is a factor in this debate, another driving factor motivating Schumer involves political control. The New York Senator has long stated his preference for a new entity that better access federal funding sources while both New York and New Jersey governors have pushed the Port Authority as the entity responsible for building out the tunnel. As we’ve seen over the years, Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie have turned the Port Authority into fiefdoms of patronage, and Schumer knows maintaining federal control over this project involves removing decision-making capabilities from the states. As we learned during the ARC debacle, allowing one party to unilaterally cancel a project harms the entire region, and a new entity can dissipate power while ensuring equality in funding obligations.

What I hope a new agency can do as well is rein in costs. It’s not quite clear how much the bill will be for the Gateway Tunnel. Recent estimates have ranged as high as $20 billion, but that figure could include additional work prepping the area around New York City for a high-speed rail line. It’s also an exceedingly high figure and one that could derail the tunnel before work begins. As with the MTA’s projects, we need to find a way to control costs on a new Amtrak tunnel that enables us to build competitively. Planners should first identify how much this project should cost based on similar tunneling efforts throughout the world and then work backwards to understand why New York’s costs are so inflated. Then we can build.

So the discussions and the political negotiations are moving forward while money remains an unknown. For now, that’s OK, but if Schumer and the feds reach a deal with the Port Authority and its two bosses, the dollars will take centerstage. Perhaps we shouldn’t wait much longer to begin that planning effort. As we’ve seen with the Second Ave. Subway, waiting accomplishes nothing, and the region shouldn’t be waiting around much longer for more trans-Hudson rail capabilities. It can’t really afford to.

You may also like


eo November 9, 2015 - 9:22 am

New agency or not, can someone explain to me why they cannot just dust up the old ARC plans for the tunnels? Why is it not that they only need to change the last half a mile or so under the river so that they hook up into the current Penn? Why do they have to spend 3-5 years doing a new EIS and new planning for the tunnels (the whole damn thing with Penn South is probably needs it, but Penn South is the one part that can wait 5 years)? Aside from the fact that there is no money, why can’t they start drilling now using the old plans for the tubes from the NJ side and by the time they get to under the middle of the river have the last half a mile which is the only different part designed and approved?

As for the new agency, I like the idea. The less unilateral power there is the less likely is for the whole thing to disintegrate. The problem with then new agency is that it might lead to distributed responsibility and reduced feeling of urgency to act as everyone can point to someone else and blame them for delays or lack of action.

Eric November 9, 2015 - 10:36 am

Because the contractors need their graft.

Bolwerk November 9, 2015 - 11:09 am

The dumb part of the old plan was not going to Penn. The dumb part of the new plan is still adding a new station next to an existing station despite going to Penn.

Eric F November 9, 2015 - 11:58 am

Penn needs to be expanded. Walk through there between 4 and 7 pm on a weekday if you won’t take my word for it.

=+= November 9, 2015 - 1:12 pm

There’s this wonderful Beaux-Arts station that has plenty of capacity not that far from Penn…

Fool November 9, 2015 - 4:54 pm

Recall that according to the MTA, Grand Central Terminal does NOT have any spare capacity.

=+= November 9, 2015 - 5:03 pm

I call BS. There is no way the MNR is using the biggest rail terminal in the world near its capacity.

SEAN November 9, 2015 - 6:26 pm

Proof please.

=+= November 9, 2015 - 6:44 pm

Why? Fool didn’t provide any proof that the MNR said that. And anyway, how could they possibly even attain the capacity of the biggest rail terminal in the world with their current level of service? There’s no intercity traffic using the terminal and the MNR doesn’t exactly run RER level service through GCT.

SEAN November 9, 2015 - 6:49 pm

But how many trains can MNR reasonably get through the Park avenue tunnel at a given period?

Duke November 9, 2015 - 8:19 pm

Between all three lines there are 52 TPH inbound between 8-9 AM. MTA claims the tunnel is at capacity and that appears to be true, at least with current signalling. But there is definitely spare platform capacity within the terminal, that is not the rate limiting step.

So, ESA could have used existing GCT, since it would enter on a new pair of tracks and therefore not cut into any Park Ave tunnel capacity. The reason it didn’t is primarily political, Metro-North and LIRR don’t want to have to share space if they can help it. Indeed, considering they perform exactly the same function except for different suburbs, in a sane world Metro-North and LIRR would be consolidated into one entity. But again, politics. They aren’t willing to play nice with each other.

And of course neither of them wants to play nice with NJ Transit, either, hence why ARC was planned as a similarly separate kingdom.

All that said, when it comes to using GCT for spare capacity from NJ, there are technical as well as political challenges. The platforms butt up against the main hall and food concourse on the south end, so it wouldn’t be possible to tie any tracks in from the south (as would be most logical for a substitute Penn service) without radically altering the terminal. Meanwhile if they tied in from the north, you’d have to figure out how to have the tunnel curve west and south to tie back into the existing tracks in NJ. Not to mention that this is several extra miles of tunnel compared to a direct tunnel to Penn, which of course means extra costs.

adirondacker12800 November 9, 2015 - 9:10 pm

The tunnel under the river was planned just after the LIRR had been taken over by the state because it was bankrupt. And when the New York Central was busy trying to stave off bankruptcy. It was completed just after the New York Central went bankrupt. They would have been thrilled to sell off stuff to the state.

=+= November 9, 2015 - 11:29 pm

Although it may be impossible to connect the every platform to a tunnel connecting GCT to the PRR alignment it wouldn’t be impossible to connect certain platforms located at the far end of the food court or to connect the new LIRR concourse to said tunnel (after all, it was considered under ARC). The Park Avenue tunnel capacity problems would probably be greatly reduced if traffic could run in a single direction during rush hour.

Fool November 9, 2015 - 7:15 pm

Well why else would they need to build a deep bore tunnel for LIRR?

=+= November 9, 2015 - 11:19 pm

Well from the little titbits of information that leak out we can conclude that the LIRR and MNR behave like children and hate each other. God knows how the MTA became the worst enemy of the MTA but that happened somehow.

adirondacker12800 November 10, 2015 - 2:15 am

You have a cite for that? Rantings of transit nerds on railroad.net and subchat.com don’t count.

=+= November 10, 2015 - 10:38 am

Do you expect the MTA to have press releases about the LIRR-MNR relation or something? The agency is so opaque that its hard to prove anything about it. The MTA hasn’t explained why they needed to build a brand new underground concourse for the LIRR and MTA authorities haven’t denied the claims that the LIRR and MNR don’t maintain a good working relation.

adirondacker12800 November 10, 2015 - 11:32 am

The tunnel under the river was planned before there was an MTA. When the New York Central was busy going bankrupt and trying to sell off parts of Grand Central Terminal.

Stephen Smith November 11, 2015 - 12:06 am

Phil Plotch covers Howard Permut’s turf battles, including over ESA and ARC, in his Tappan Zee book.

=+= November 11, 2015 - 12:29 pm

I’m not talking about the 63rd street tunnel; I’m talking about the new deep-level concourse. Yes the 63rd street tunnel was planned and built in the 60s and 70s but the ESA plans date from the 90s and 00s and the MTA already owned both the LIRR and the MNR by then.

@Stephen Smith
Thanks, I’ll have to give it a read.

adirondacker12800 November 11, 2015 - 1:02 pm

The tunnel is too deep. Which is why they were talking about a separate terminal back in the 60s.

=+= November 11, 2015 - 3:51 pm

Really? I’ve never been able to get my hands on the original case study for the earlier version of the project so I’m really curious to know if that is indeed what was stated in it. If you have a link to scanned version of the study I would really appreciate it.

adirondacker12800 November 11, 2015 - 7:44 pm

If the MTA already owned both of them how can the MTA have a turf war with itself?

=+= November 12, 2015 - 8:36 am

Why does the MNR, LIRR and NYCTA all have their own fare policies? Why does the LIRR and MNR still have their own independent employee pools if they’re both FRA regulated commuter systems owned by the same entity? Why do they both have their own redundant maintenance departments instead of one unified one? The MTA doesn’t appear to have done much to consolidate its divisions.

I don’t mean to come off as an asshole but I have seriously never seen anything that even hinted at the MNR and LIRR working together. I would love to be proven wrong but without something that demonstrates that the LIRR and MNR do indeed work together its a bit hard to rule out the LIRR-MNR infighting rumour.

Tower18 November 9, 2015 - 1:13 pm

This has been dealt with over and over again on this site. There’s nothing wrong with Penn, functionally, that requires any expansion.

IIRC, what would fix Penn is a *reduction* in the number of tracks, with corresponding wider platforms and redesigned ingress/egress, and a reconfiguration of the concourse levels, removing office space and opening concourse space.

Now the station itself is a disgrace, but it could work a lot better without needing to be expanded.

eo November 9, 2015 - 2:02 pm

Widening the platforms or moving any track even 1 inch is a very very expensive proposition because that requires moving the supports of the MSG and that is expensive. However you have definitely identified one way to make things better without spending $5B on it: move the office and supporting space out of there. The offices and the crew rooms can go to the Post Office Building opening wide swats of space on both passenger levels (not the platform levels). I get it that the current building would never be a Beaux-Arts marvel and that putting the crew space in the nice-looking post office building seems like doing two wrongs to some people, but the reality is that the crew space needs to be close to the station — the crews need to be able to use it — and that we do not have the money to turn the old post office into a station. Also, no matter what they tell you the post office is in the wrong place to be used as a station. It is too far west for most platforms. Some of the single digit tracks do not even extend below the post office. The right place for Penn station is where Penn is and whether we like it or not it should stay there unless we are willing to spend untold billions on it. We could make the current station accommodate more people and easier to navigate by spending far less.

Moving the crew space to the post office and opening up the existing Penn will cost much less than a pie-in-the-sky station that some politicians and architects want to build. It would help tremendously with the crowds.

Alon Levy November 9, 2015 - 3:15 pm

What you’re proposing does exactly nothing for the track level, which is where the problems are. The concourses suck, but whatever, it’s a train station.

Eric F November 9, 2015 - 4:06 pm

The passenger waiting areas for NJT and the LIRR at Penn are claustrophobically overcrowded at peak outbound periods, and appear (to my untrained eye) to become dangerously so in the not-rare case of delays.

New Yorkers get sort of used to this stuff, but when I have friends visit from out of town and come in to Penn via NJT and hit the station as the outbound rush in in swing, they are appalled by what people deal with.

SEAN November 9, 2015 - 6:35 pm

If you want to avoid most of the crowds at Penn Station when using NJT or Amtrak, don’t go to the center of the building. Instead enter the newer concourse below 7th Avenue. It’s not ideal, but I find it works quite well. Also there are more than enough TVM’s around to keep lines manageable.

Alon Levy November 10, 2015 - 12:39 am

I’m visiting from out of town, too… Stockholm Central is very crowded at rush hour, too, as all major train stations are. There’s a train hall with high ceilings, but also tons of narrow passageways, especially if you’re just getting on the commuter trains. The commuter trains have 4 tracks and run 16 peak tph (they have dedicated tracks because there are faregates); the intercity tracks run 8 peak tph through the tunnel to the south of the station and, excluding trains that only go north, have 6 tracks. The platforms are wider than in New York, though.

One possible difference in passenger behavior between the US and Sweden may stem from train frequency. In New York, there is very heavy traffic at rush hour, but most stations are served infrequently. There are only 4 trains leaving Penn between 5 and 6 that serve Syosset. The result is that commuters leave a lot of spare time, because if they miss a train, they’ll have to wait some time for the next train. In contrast, on the subway, sub-5-minute frequencies ensure that people just show up for the next train. At the closer-in stations in Stockholm, even on the branches (the commuter trains have 2 major branches in each direction), rush hour frequency is 8 tph, so people don’t wait so long for the train.

The solution, in part, is to reform the schedules in this direction/ (tl;dr: if all trains run local east of Floral Park and the diesel trains don’t run through to electric territory, then many of the factors leading to train delays would be reduced, which would allow the schedule to run with less slack, so that local trains would make the same trip time that the express trains make today).

eo November 9, 2015 - 10:11 pm

We both know that in general you are right and that more service can be run through fewer platforms if everything is done right the way they usually do in Europe or in Japan.

Unfortunately we live in a place where politics is waay waaaay too local and unfortunately that means that it matters more than it should. For that reason we know that there will never be widened platform or fewer tracks at Penn because every neighborhood is rooting for itself, so their railroads (Metro-North, LIRR and NJT) do not cooperate with each other. Once you add the different historical evolution of these railroads it is pretty clear that cooperation will never happen. In the private sector cooperation between acquiring and acquired firms’ staff happens because it is imposed from the top — if the employees do not cooperate they get shown the door. In politics it does not work that way — the politicians are elected, so their interests are not aligned with the overall common good, but with the “good” of their respective county or neighborhood only, so they cannot impose cooperation between the railroads and force them to merge. The reality is that unified management could wring at least $1-2B in cost savings per year just by aligning interests of all three railroads and eliminating common redundancies, but we do not have unified management of railroads in this country (or most transportation infrastructure for that matter) so the benefits of common unified planning, purchasing of equipment, management and operation cannot be realized.

So given that we will not get the railroads to cooperate, we (and you) should forget about things such as through running (they will not happen in our lifetime) and focus on things that can be accomplished. Making more space for passengers is something that all three railroads needs, so their interests are aligned in that (NJT and LIRR as current tenants in Penn and Metro-North as a future tenant). The money needed for that are also way way more reasonable than the amounts needed for all pie-in-the-sky plans involving moving Madison Square Garden and building a new station. Whether I or you like it we live in a society and world in which not everything is accomplishable. We should keep dreaming, but also recognize what can and cannot be accomplished as opposed to having the “better be the enemy of good enough”. For that reason a built ARC would have been much better than the pie-in-the-sky Gateway. None of us will live long enough to take a train through the high-speed station of Gateway and in all likelihood we all will be retired by the time we take the first train over the Secaucus loop through the new Hudson Tunnels into Penn South. So let not make sure that this does not turn into the next cancelled ARC.

lop November 9, 2015 - 10:40 pm

Operating+capital expenses for LIRR, MNRR, and NJTransit commuter rail operations were ~4.1 billion in 2013. You think unified operations would cut that 25-50%?

eo November 10, 2015 - 9:54 am

I believe it. But you can only reach that level of savings about 20 or so years after merging them. For example, you won’t get benefits of common shared rolling stock until the existing one is ready to be sent for scrap. But when the time comes you can go to common bi-level coach cars for all railroads plus a common EMU platform the way they are doing with the M9s. For engines you can go to a common diesel platform plus one electric engine for the lines with catenary. Such orders will be huge, and give you better leverage with suppliers. Also the commonality of the pool will make it much easier to swap sets, or single cars. Big chuck of the savings will be in places one does not even think usually: every train you can run through means a train that does not need to be stored at Sunnyside or the yards at Penn Station, so your capital outlay for yards in the urban core (which are the most expensive ones) disappears. But I digress in the dreamy world of unified management. Nevertheless, if it was to happen, I believe that the long term savings will be on that order of magnitude. Too bad this is not going to happen in our lifetime.

Bolwerk November 9, 2015 - 2:47 pm

Expanding outbound service between 4 and 7 pm would be more helpful than expanding Penn itself.

adirondacker12800 November 9, 2015 - 3:39 pm

Getting the time-space-continuum-warping-machine that gets the trains to the station so they can depart would mean we don’t need the trains anymore.

SEAN November 9, 2015 - 6:38 pm

But what about the lines to use them?

SEAN November 9, 2015 - 9:36 am

The New York Senator has long stated his preference for a new entity that better access federal funding sources while both New York and New Jersey governors have pushed the Port Authority as the entity responsible for building out the tunnel. As we’ve seen over the years, Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie have turned the Port Authority into fiefdoms of patronage, and Schumer knows maintaining federal control over this project involves removing decision-making capabilities from the states. As we learned during the ARC debacle, allowing one party to unilaterally cancel a project harms the entire region, and a new entity can dissipate power while ensuring equality in funding obligations.

This is an example of states rights to the extreme – where Christie’s canceling a multi-state train tunnel for political points damages so many things from commerce to economic development not to mention delaying thousands of commuters each day.

I’m not denying the flaws of ARC, rather I do believe there was a better solution than what we ended up with & most readers here would agree with that statement.

Eric F November 9, 2015 - 11:56 am

“Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie have turned the Port Authority into fiefdoms of patronage”


It’s been this way since the only life forms on Earth were single celled organisms. Those who love “government” might want to try and understand what their Leviathan looks like in practice.

And do any of you seriously think that the PA is more a patronage pit than your local school bureaucracy, DoT, arts agency, etc.? Yeesh.

SEAN November 9, 2015 - 2:56 pm

And do any of you seriously think that the PA is more a patronage pit than your local school bureaucracy, DoT, arts agency, etc.? Yeesh

When you factor in all the things the PA is involved in – the answer is a resounding yes & I think you know that.

Bolwerk November 9, 2015 - 2:59 pm

And do any of you seriously think that the PA is more a patronage pit than your local school bureaucracy, DoT, arts agency, etc.?

If “your” agencies refers to NYC agencies, then yes. I can’t speak to conditions in that mafia-run state across the Hudson or some of NYC’s NYS suburbs.

Eric F November 9, 2015 - 4:09 pm

The PA gets the press these days. When I was a young sprout the Queens borough president killed himself over corruption in parking violations enforcement. It could be that all the NYC agencies –the schools, NYCHA, the parks, etc. — grind on with minimal corruption year upon year, but that’s really not the safe way to bet.

SEAN November 9, 2015 - 4:45 pm

If “your” agencies refers to NYC agencies, then yes. I can’t speak to conditions in that mafia-run state across the Hudson or some of NYC’s NYS suburbs.

NYS DOE is quite corrupt when it is involved serving those with disabilities. I can tell you first hand accounts on what went on when I used services from Lighthouse International. The doctors there quite good, but the social services end of it is tied to the department of Education through Vesid, Independent Living Centers & most Importantly Commission for the blind.

None of the NFP agencies ever question the orders handed down from the state since they will lose their state allotted funds & possibly clients.

Sorry for going so far off topic.

Bolwerk November 9, 2015 - 8:33 pm

I don’t remember Donald Manes that well. But you mentioned patronage, not corruption, and both could be distinguished from plain ol’ inefficiency and ineptitude. Patronage at least could be legal. I honestly don’t find the PA that corrupt, though I’d say its expensive, bloated contracts doled out to pet projects the governors want done probably qualify as patronage to both contractors and construction unions. So does probably tens of millions$ in discretionary funds NYC offers councilmembers and borough presidents.

The most likely place left in NYC to find overt corruption is probably, well, law enforcement. But, generally speaking, the state government seems much worse than the city.

Bolwerk November 9, 2015 - 11:14 am

New York politicians sit idly by while Andy Cuomo bails out his BFF Christie with money that could be spent on the Second Avenue Subway, forcing both states to each spend more than New Jersey would have had to spend to see ARC through.

New York shouldn’t obstruct, but these fuckers should just let the Feds and New Jersey pay for the new tunnel. If New Jersey doesn’t want to pay for a mess it created, let the feds handle it. They probably would be forced to anyway. Eventually. Cuomo is an inept turd.

LLQBTT November 9, 2015 - 1:22 pm

He’s also investing heavily in Buffalo. Go figure…

Bolwerk November 9, 2015 - 2:48 pm

Buffalo probably has a lot of potential if the car culture cretins can keep their grubby fingers away.

Alex November 9, 2015 - 11:29 am

DATELINE: February 2017 – After an amazing comeback performance in the GOP primary and a decisive victory over Martin O’malley in the general election, newly inaugurated President Chris Christie made good on his promise to cut pork barrel spending and canceled the Gateway Tunnel project today. He is reportedly asking congress to redirect the funds to a rusty highway bridge in New Jersey.

SEAN November 9, 2015 - 3:01 pm

Brought to you by http://www.infowars.com. Ah fantisy.

victor November 9, 2015 - 1:10 pm

Ben, my browser automatically downloads a file sugr.swf often when I view your website. I assume this is the same kind of ad that used to pop up when I browsed your website on my phone. I’m sure the file is innocuous in the sense that it is only a flash advertisement (I’m not going to open it), but your advertisers need to clean up.

webster November 9, 2015 - 1:10 pm

Just for clarity…doesn’t the $20 billion estimate include all of the improvements between Newark and New York Penn (double tracking, new Portal Bridge, Tunnels, etc?).

=+= November 9, 2015 - 3:16 pm

Yes. I’m not sure if it includes the Secaucus connection though.

AG November 9, 2015 - 8:08 pm

Yes – it’s all that and more

LLQBTT November 9, 2015 - 1:24 pm

So glad to read that the local pork store will be (somewhat) marginalized on this one.

Larry Greenfield November 9, 2015 - 3:17 pm

This is good news because it takes the corrupt and incompetent Port Authority of New York and New Jersey out of a leadership position and gives authority to, presumably, professional transportation managers.

I’d like to see the same type of federal entity take the lead on a new Penn Station, rail access to our airports, a new Manhattan bus terminal and other regional transportation projects that involve multiple transportation operators.

Eric F November 9, 2015 - 4:11 pm

Right… A new agency beholden to … Schumer with $20 billion to spend over how many years, realistically? 20-30. My advice would be to get a job with this agency, you’ll have lifetime employment.

AG November 9, 2015 - 8:11 pm

Please name one thing the federal government handles efficiently. In my experience – nothing.

adirondacker12800 November 9, 2015 - 8:58 pm


AG November 9, 2015 - 11:10 pm

Medicare??? That’s a joke. That is probably the most fraud ridden thing we have in our society. Aside from the runaway fraud – as to how it operates itself – just ask anyone who has to work with it in healthcare. Going through all the rigmarole is enough to give anyone a headache.

Bolwerk November 9, 2015 - 11:39 pm

It’s another case of pretty rock bottom administrative costs compared to private care. That rigmarole is probably the reason for relatively low fraud rates. AIUI, typical prosecution rates run in the hundreds per year, annually, for a program with ~50 million participants.

I’ve seen annual fraudulent medicare spending statistics cited from around 1% to under 10%. I can see 1% being too low because I doubt all fraud can be detected, but the 10% number usually comes from sources assuming all erroneous billing is fraudulent.

will November 9, 2015 - 9:33 pm

Social Security is very efficiently run.

AG November 9, 2015 - 11:08 pm

You seriously consider Social Security well run???? If it was private it would almost be a ponzi scheme

Bolwerk November 9, 2015 - 11:19 pm

What would you call “well-run”? It has administrative costs of like 2%.

Alon Levy November 9, 2015 - 11:50 pm

Actually less than 1%, as I recall.

AG November 10, 2015 - 5:22 pm

Oh – only administrative costs count? Not the fact that it’s a political football that only isn’t bleeding money because of interest earned… Which in a few years won’t be the case… So drastic changes have to be made to it. I guess my idea of things being well run are very different.

adirondacker12800 November 10, 2015 - 6:02 pm

What do you want to measure instead?

Bolwerk November 11, 2015 - 10:27 am

Well, kind of. There are two categories of costs associated with social security: payouts and administration. Nobody is arguing that beneficiaries aren’t getting their benefits, so that leaves administration.

Deficit scaremongers, who actually want to dismantle the social safety net, try to attack social security, but so far it has mostly resisted them.

The “drastic change” you’re referring to is an increase in collection rates of 2-3% (see this SAS thread, actually) sometime in the 2030s, if no other changes are made before.

You won’t say what you consider “well-run,” but I don’t see a lot of room for improvement on that. Unless you think “well-run” means higher taxes and larger benefit payouts?

Bolwerk November 9, 2015 - 9:35 pm

It’s probably easier to come up with things that unambiguously are not.

The FRA comes to mind!

=+= November 10, 2015 - 2:11 am

What? The FRA regulations are pretty outdated for modern passenger lines but really for the freight-centric US rail environment they do a fine job.

Bolwerk November 10, 2015 - 9:16 am

Even if that is their only problem, they’re basically depriving the USA of a first world passenger transportation system.

Alon Levy November 9, 2015 - 3:19 pm

They’re arguing over what color is best for the lipstick on the pig.

JJJJ November 9, 2015 - 5:38 pm

Create new Tunnel Corporation, LLC.
Have Tunnel Corporation LLC borrow the money needed to build tunnel, to be paid for with train tolls.
Build tunnel.
Tunnel Corporation, LLC declares bankruptcy when $2 train tolls are insufficient.

=+= November 9, 2015 - 6:19 pm

As stupid as that might sound ‘train tolls’ are used in certain places. The LGV SEA, for instance, is financed partly with private funds and the companies are going to receive money through a utilization fee train operators (the SNCF and possibly Renfe) will have to pay everytime their trains ride over the corridor.

SEAN November 9, 2015 - 6:44 pm

But what happens if the operator has an EZ-Pass tag on the windshield?

eo November 9, 2015 - 10:14 pm

You will need the PA to jack up the tolls. There is no way around it.

AG November 9, 2015 - 8:03 pm

The federal government is even worse… All this does is add another layer. Go look at all the graft that results from any military outside contractors. Or disaster relief… Or any other major outlay. Makes the PA and MTA look like Boy Scouts.

Bolwerk November 9, 2015 - 8:54 pm

Even if that were true, they effectively have an unlimited purse to pay for such a project, unlike us. It would literally be better for us* to let them blow even $50 billion, waste ‘n all, in “printed” dollars on it themselves rather than have us finance it out of our more limited pockets at ARC prices.

Of course, I don’t know that the Feds are that graft-prone either. The incompetent demons in the Bush Administration obviously mismanaged FEMA, and I’ll grant you the military is a horrible source of graft. Still, even setting aside whether you agree with a particular program or appropriation, overall they seem to manage and scope infrastructure projects pretty well themselves.

A bigger concern I think is building a 21st century railroad properly is a bit of anybody’s league in this country.

* us = any or all: New York, New Jersey, the PA

AG November 9, 2015 - 11:15 pm

Right – they have unlimited dollars – but they will never pay for all of this. (But in reality its not unlimited – we all pay for it one way or another)

FEMA? c’mon – they were crap under Bush and they are crap under Obama. Sandy hasn’t been as dysfunctional as Katrina – but it’s still pitiful for a first world country.

I’m curious though – what infrastructure projects to they manage and scope well??? They can’t even figure out what to do about a new FBI headquarters!

Bolwerk November 10, 2015 - 9:32 am

FEMA’s job is to distribute money and coordinate resources, which ultimately includes a lot of pork, but I would blame elected officials for this. The agency seemed to do its job under Obama, but was led by a dimwit who was ideologically opposed to performing the agency’s mission under Bush. This has relatively little to do with capital construction anyway.

The Feds don’t lead a lot of big infrastructure projects, but they do coordinate and standardize them. FHWA projects seem to run in the low 7 figures range per lane mile, which doesn’t seem that bad to me. Unfortunately, they don’t really deal with rail projects except indirectly, so this is a poor basis for comparison.

AG November 10, 2015 - 5:00 pm

Talk to a few people who lost it all during Sandy… To them FEMA isn’t so great.

But yes – there is little comparison. My point is there is PLENTY of waste and graft associated with things the federal government does.

Bolwerk November 11, 2015 - 10:34 am

What do you think FEMA’s job is exactly? They aren’t a first-responder. By the time FEMA is involved, usually the people who lost everything already lost everything. It’s an office that helps coordinate inter-agency communication and resource allocation after a disaster, something it did after Sandy and didn’t do after Katrina.

AG November 11, 2015 - 10:36 pm

So basically – it is exactly like this agency to be created… Again – just because Sandy wasn’t as pitiful as Katrina doesn’t mean it was very good. Again – talk to people who had to deal with the drama of getting help.

adirondacker12800 November 12, 2015 - 12:09 am

It’s not FEMA’s fault that Republican Congressmen refused to fund Sandy relief for months.

AG November 12, 2015 - 4:40 pm

The Republican Congress is a part of the federal government…

Bolwerk November 12, 2015 - 11:49 am

No, it doesn’t, but it doesn’t mean they’re very bad either.

Most problems with Sandy I’ve seen could probably be blamed on Congress and typical NYS/NYC incompetence. FEMA did its job and coordinated emergency response.

“Talk to people” means talk to angry people who are looking for someone to blame. If you want to say FEMA did a bad job, cite a problem with FEMA’s performance. It’s not FEMA’s job to do the impossible and save your flood-prone house. Michael Brown’s Katrina-era incompetence actually killed a lot of people, which wasn’t repeated with Sandy under a more competent administration.

Leave a Comment