Monday, October 25, 2010

Revisiting the Secaucus Boondoggle

Alfred Doblin at the Record continues to savage the ARC tunnel proposal and its various machinations. He's late in coming to the argument that the one-seat ride into Manhattan eliminates the rationale for the billion dollar boondoggle, the Secaucus Transfer (which is named after current US Senator Frank Lautenberg).

I've been pointing out the faulty NJ Transit rationale for the Secaucus Transfer, the failure to handle cost overruns on that project that sent costs from $80 million when first proposed to more than $1 billion counting debt payments. By building Secaucus, the agency put itself in a fiscal bind because it has to pay off those obligations and utilization of the station is still well below projections and that's with the late-in-coming parking lot and Meadowlands train service that operates only for a few hours before and after events at the Meadowlands.

Doblin makes a good point to seek Amtrak service at Secaucus, which would provide additional benefits for North Jersey commuters and enhance the utility of the facility that remains sorely under-utilized.

Now, the agency wants to essentially circumvent the station altogether with a one-seat ride to Manhattan. To get a one-seat ride means either electrifying more than 120 miles of track, which would cost more than $240 million, or buying dual-powered locomotives.

NJ Transit has committed to the latter path, and have contracted to purchase $300 million worth of ALP-45DM locomotives from Bombardier.

Even if the ARC tunnel isn't built, those dual-powered locomotives would actually represent an emissions reduction path for Hoboken, since the area just west of the twin tunnels into Hoboken are electrified. Diesel locomotives spew all manner of compounds and particulates into the air, and a day doesn't go by when you can't see the emissions from the rail yard. Electric locomotives would be able to significantly reduce the pollution in and around the Hoboken terminal, as well as reduce the energy consumption.

It would allow the agency to eliminate older diesel powered locomotives and run cleaner and more efficient locomotives.

Still, proponents can't quite get past the fact that this is a flawed design and that cost overruns will affect New Jersey's bottom line. Addressing the fiscal problems is one part. The other is dealing with a design that will not solve the design woes in Manhattan where the new tunnel terminates without adequate space for excess trains after disembarking passengers and which does not truly produce the kind of additional capacity that the proponents claim.

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