Thursday, June 17, 2010

ARC Tunnel Insufficient; Amtrak Looking At Its Own New Hudson River Tunnel

New Jersey Transit is currently in the process of building a $7 billion new 2-track tunnel under the Hudson River connecting to a new terminal in the vicinity of Herald Square. That would have doubled the rail capacity under the Hudson River but really only increased the capacity for NJ Transit while Amtrak service would have seen only an incremental increase.

As that plan was originally conceived, the ARC tunnel would have doubled the capacity and linked into Penn Station. That was then. Now? We've got a separate plan and the cash-strapped Amtrak is looking for its own tunnel expansion project.
Amtrak is studying the need for another underground railway to complement an existing, century-old Hudson River crossing and an $8.7 billion tunnel that NJ Transit plans to build by 2017.

The national rail agency’s master plan for the Northeast Corridor — the span of track between Washington D.C. and Boston, Ma., notes that riders on the Northeast Corridor are expected to double by 2030 and “new tunnels” could handle the expanded capacity.

The plan says NJ Transit’s tunnel is expected to provide only “some” relief to a system critics say needs much more to handle connections from North Jersey and elsewhere.

Now, more than 1,000 trains each weekday land at New York’s Penn Station from NJ Transit, Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad.

“We have a planning effort underway to determine needs for the Northeast Corridor in the long-term, including expanding capacity for inter-city and commuter operations, with the potential for a new tunnel,” said Cliff Cole, an Amtrak spokesman.

That effort also includes evaluating the need for a new tunnel under the East River and a direct rail link to Kennedy International Airport.
This is crazy - the ARC project would have been more than sufficient to meet the needs of both NJ Transit and Amtrak for the foreseeable future had it gone into Penn Station, but the NJ Transit plan now calls for the separate track routing.

Moreover, it would have been a much more efficient use of money, and any additional costs of routing the NJ Transit trains into Penn Station would have been offset by the reduced costs of having to carve out a brand new terminal space in Herald Square and all the related links to existing mass transit.

Amtrak has no money and there is no money available to expand the project to include a direct link to Kennedy Airport (which has been a pipe dream for decades and comes closest in the form of the AirTrain). There's no reason for Amtrak to even be discussing East River crossings, when that would probably be service better reserved for the LIRR, which services Long Island and which terminates either at Penn Station or at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn.

This is all about the most effective use of money - and Amtrak's proposal is a colossal waste of funds at a time when it could put it to better use - upgrading its power infrastructure so that trains are not constantly affected by outages and downed power lines. It could alternatively upgrade the tracks and create an additional right of way for high speed train service - an exclusive high speed track that can handle far higher speeds than currently possible. Given that any new tunnel into Penn Station would rival the $8.7 billion for the ARC tunnel project, that $8.7 billion could completely renovate the Northeast Corridor's power systems and carry out track upgrades that are long overdue.

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