Friday, August 12, 2011

ARC Tunnel Was No Panacea To Ongoing NJ Transit and Amtrak Delays

This past week has been a horror show for commuters along the Northeast Corridor and other train lines into New York Penn Station. A supposed minor derailment led to massive delays that lasted more than 24 hours and a further minor derailment in Sunnyside Yards led to additional delays.

Then, this morning signal problems led to still more delays.

All these problems have apparently resurrected calls to build new tunnels into Manhattan or otherwise castigate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for cancelling the ARC Tunnel project.

I doubt any of these people actually reviewed the ARC tunnel project and knew how the tracks and station were configured.

Had they done so, they would have realized that the new tunnel project would have succumbed to exactly the same kinds of delays. In fact, it would have likely resulted in even greater delays.

ARC would have built 2 single track tunnels to a new station underneath Herald Square that had multiple platforms. That means that all the tracks would have had to funnel into one track for each direction. Considering that the derailment was in the same kind of location - a choke point - a derailment within the ARC tunnel project would have resulted in the same kinds of delays.

Actually, the delays could have been far worse. You see, the ARC tunnel station had no space to store additional trains. At New York Penn Station, out-of-service trains are stored in Sunnyside Yards in Queens. The ARC station had no such facilities or access, meaning that a derailment would have blocked multiple track platforms and once any trains sitting in the station could be moved out, there were no additional trains that could be brought in in a timely fashion. It would have increased delays, and meant that commuters would have to shuffle over to New York Penn Station and hope that NJ Transit could have equipment in place to handle the overflow.

As we've seen, NJ Transit has been incapable of handling overflow situations, even where the track capacity is available. If it doesn't have equipment in the right place at the time, you'd still get the massive delays.

In other words, Gov. Christie was correct to kill the ARC tunnel, which was the wrong answer to a big question - how to get more commuter and high speed trains into New York. The Gateway proposal is a better setup as it increases tunnel capacity into New York Penn directly, along with the Sunnyside Yards. It would enable high speed rail for Amtrak, and better handle delays or breakdowns along the NEC.

Gateway is the solution to the question, not ARC.

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