Monday, April 23, 2012

Changing Trains Across The Hudson

April 19 the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out a measure approving $20 million for continued design and engineering work on Amtrak’s Gateway Project, the last survivor among three projects to build a new pair of tunnels under the Hudson River to relieve rail congestion in the Northeast Corridor leading to Manhattan’s Penn Station. The Access to the Region’s Core rail tunnel project was scotched by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and a proposed extension of the Number 7 subway into Seacaucus, was scuttled by the New York MTA. Gateway is projected to cost a total of $14.5 billion, and would provide tunnels for both commuter trains and high speed rail into Penn Station.

Of course, Senate Appropriations approval is just one step in the process. The bill will still have to pass floor votes in both houses of Congress, and get President Obama’s signature. Gateway was originally announced in February 2011, with a projected price tag of $13.5 billion and a completion date of 2020. Now the price has increased by $1 billion, and the timeline extended to 2025. And the Gateway project has detractors, even among rail and transit advocates. Long Island Railroad’s Director of Planning Joe Clift points out that Gateway is designed more for inter-city high speed rail than cross Hudson commuters, and Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole acknowledges that Gateway will not double peak hour commuter service, and that northern New Jersey commuters will have to change trains to reach Manhattan.

Gateway would increase NJ Transit commuter service from 20 trains per hour up to 36 per hour. So, while planning funds may materialize soon, there is no final agreement among the various agencies involved about cost sharing, nor is there any immediate prospect that $14.5 billion in construction funds will be committed to the Gateway project.
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