Monday, November 08, 2010

Amtrak and NJ Transit In Talks To Build New Tunnel

Isn't it odd that now that Gov. Chris Christie killed the ARC tunnel project that would have been nothing more than a real expensive white elephant for NJ Transit and New Jersey taxpayers that NJ Transit is now in talks with Amtrak over building a new tunnel into Penn Station for high speed rail.

This is as it should have been in the first place. NJ Transit did not need its own tunnel to nowhere with no space to place trains that have disembarked passengers and which would not have eliminated bottlenecks for passengers if there were delays. The ARC tunnel was already looking at cost overruns by a significant factor over the originally estimated $5 billion (it was last up to $8.7 billion and that cost overruns were expected to push it to at least $10 billion and perhaps as much as $13 billion with New Jersey taxpayers picking up the cost for all those overruns). The Obama Administration offered to pick up another $350 million but that was insufficient to cover the potential overruns that would total up to $3 to $5 billion. Needless to say, the Obama Administration didn't feel so strongly about this shovel ready project to get the funding to make the project happen and the New Jersey congressional delegation failed to persuade anyone in Congress or the Administration to make the money happen despite their protestations to the contrary.

Christie did the right thing in killing the project and making sure that a new tunnel project runs through to Penn Station where it will provide the greatest return on investment and maximizes limited resources.

The Amtrak proposal is part of a much larger long range plan to upgrade the Northeast Corridor to high speed rail with much higher speeds than currently possible with even the Acela service. It would incorporate a new right of way and limited stations between Washington, DC and Boston. The cost to build the entire system would be in the ballpark of $117 billion over the life of the upgrades, which works out to a not inconsequential $5 billion per year. That's a huge infusion of money into the system if it ever comes to fruition and receives the funding and support from Congress. That is up in the air with the Republican takeover and the public in little mood to increase funding for a rail system that is largely perceived as being a waste of money because it cannot operate as a stand alone service without significant subsidies.

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