Thursday, October 02, 2014

Sandy Related Repairs to Affect LIRR and Amtrak Service for Years

New Yorkers have been trying to adjust to the new normal of MTA repairs to tunnels that were flooded by the storm surge from Superstorm Sandy. It included a 15-month closure of the Montague tunnel that affected many living in Brooklyn. There have been scattered closures to other tunnels and rerouted service elsewhere in the subway system, but now comes word that Amtrak is about to do its own remediation of the East River tunnels.

These tunnels service not only Amtrak, but LIRR and NJ Transit. They connect Penn Station with Long Island through the Sunnyside Yards and Harold Interlocking. Amtrak has to take two of the tunnels out of service for a year each. This will reduce the service capacity by 25% (1 out of four tunnels will be out of service at any time during the duration of the project that is expected to start next year).

The reconstruction will be similar to the work done on the Montague tunnels. It will include rebuilding the bench walls that include cable conduits for signals and power, plus railbed replacement and other work that can't be done while the tunnel is active.

The MTA and Amtrak were able to get service restored, but have been seeing an increased amount of service disruptions due to corrosion of equipment in the affected tunnels. That's why this full rehabilitation must get done.

But the East River tunnels are the easy part.

Amtrak has said that they must do the same with the Hudson River tunnels.

There are only two tunnels under the Hudson, and each are over 100 years old. They are functionally obsolete and need major rehabilitation, but that work can't be done until additional capacity is added.

After Gov. Christie cancelled the fully funded ARC tunnel project, that left a gaping hole in capacity expansion. Amtrak proposed a better project, Gateway, that would directly link in with NY Penn Station and allow through trains to run and high speed rail once service improvements elsewhere in the system are made.

Gateway is more than a decade away from seeing the light of day due to lack of funding. So New Jersey residents will be suffering with service delays for the foreseeable future.

Now some will point to Christie being short sighted in his cancellation of the project, but it was the right thing to do because NJ Transit has never met a capital project it couldn't complete overbudget and years after the scheduled deadlines. Cost overruns were likely to be in the $1-2 billion range, and even the FTA warned about the cost containment.

Gateway allows more capacity to the entire system - NJ Transit, Amtrak, and LIRR. ARC would have had limited capacity improvements for NJ Transit since the New York terminus was just that - a terminus. There was no place to store additional trains for rush hour, reducing actual customer capacity on the trains that would run to New Jersey.

The fact that we need to get additional capacity to allow for both growth in customer demand and to fix existing infrastructure is well established. What's missing is the lack of support in New York and New Jersey to find the funding for this critical work. That falls on both Gov. Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Both have shown indifference to mass transit and infrastructure beyond a few car-centric projects like the new Tappan Zee bridge in New York and the Pulaski Skyway rehabilitation and NJ Turnpike expansion projects in New Jersey.

This has to change in order to improve the economic competitiveness of the region against other world-class cities.

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