Scoring the New Starts Report

» The Federal Transit Administration releases its budget for FY ’10, and recommends new transit capital projects

On Friday, the Obama Administration released details on its proposed budget for fiscal year 2010. The recommended appropriations affect each agency, and will have to be approved by Congress in a succession of relevant bills before they become law, but since Democrats control both the executive and legislative branches, there are likely to be few divergences from the President’s proposals.

The Federal Transit Administration’s budget will increase to $10.34 billion this year, up from $10.23 billion in FY 2009. These amounts were set in stone by the 2005 surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, so there was little expectation that the President would propose massive increases in funding for public transportation. However, the budget significantly expands funding for New and Small Start transit capital projects, from $1.57 billion in ’09 to $1.83 billion in ’10. ARRA stimulus funds were included in FY ’09.

Because the dedicated highway trust fund, which funds highways and transit and which relies on fuel tax revenues, is running out of cash as people drive less and automobiles become more frugal, the government needs a new source of funds for transportation. This year, as in 2008, the Hosue and Senate will likely have to divert general fund revenues to compensate, and the budget assumes that fact, proposing that a large percentage of both transit and highway money be appropriated directly by the Congress.

Along with the general budget, the Department of Transportation released its annual New Starts Report. This document, which is well worth reading through if you have the time, documents the federal government’s commitment to funding new transit corridors in the United States. The FTA rated and recommended a number of new corridors for funding — five major New Starts projects and five Small Start projects in addition to several already announced over the past year.

In addition, the New Starts budget includes projects currently under construction with a federal commitment. On Thursday, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced that he would expedite New Start funds for corridors using $743 million worth of recovery funds, allowing those projects to move forward more quickly than otherwise.

Since major new transit investments are almost impossible without a federal government commitment, this report is very important for public transportation agencies hoping to build new rail and bus lines. The projects receiving the good news included New York’s Access to the Region’s Core Tunnel (ARC), Orlando’s Central Florida Commuter Rail, Sacramento’s South Corridor LRT Phase II, and Houston’s North and Southeast LRT corridors. The government’s suggested commitment to ARC, at $3 billion, represents the FTA’s biggest-ever grant proposal and will require congressional approval.

The projects considered are summarized in the chart I’ve compiled below based on the report. Projects must achieve a rating of Medium or higher to receive a Full Funding Grant Agreement (for New Starts – FFGA) or Project Construction Grant Agreement (for Small Starts – PCGA), which guarantee a federal commitment for the completion of a project.

Two projects were poorly rated by the report — Miami’s Orange Line Phase II, a metro extension; and Boston’s Silver Line Phase III, a new bus tunnel. Each project is currently in limbo: it will be rejected entirely by the FTA if the sponsoring transit agencies cannot get their respective act together. Miami’s transit tax doesn’t provide enough money to operate the city’s existing lines, let alone new ones. Meanwhile, Boston’s MBTA expects to use bonds to pay for its project — but the FTA thinks that that system is unsustainable, and would not cover actual construction costs. Boston recently announced it would build a surface version of the bus project, so it was unlikely this project would happen anyway. These low ratings aren’t particularly surprising.

Projects already approved for funding over the past year include the Salt Lake City Mid-Jordan LRT; the Denver West Corridor LRT; the Seattle University Link LRT; the Washington Dulles Metro Wiehle Avenue Extension; and the Portland Streetcar Eastside Extension. The budget also includes $81.79 million that will be appropriated to qualified projects over the course of the next year, but which were not yet ready to recommend for funding as of this New Starts report.

The Overhead Wire made some good conclusions about the report yesterday, pointing out that a number of the transit agencies have only asked for a 30-40% federal share, putting an unnecessary burden on local funding sources, when highways are almost always ensured an 80% federal share when they’re constructed. There’s also increasing evidence that the Congress will be pushing the FTA to increase the federal share of transit construction projects, so it’s bizarre to see Denver only asking for 28% of its project’s costs to be covered by Washington. That said, the FTA still does look favorably on projects that request fewer federal funds, so perhaps Denver saw it in its interests to ask for less.

The report’s poor ratings for the Boston and Miami projects indicate that the FTA prioritizes local funding stability when it selects projects to sponsor. It is simply not willing to put big bucks into transit agencies that don’t have guaranteed income sources to ensure that new projects will be properly built and operated, and that’s good policy. We shouldn’t ask Washington to pay for big new public transportation lines that aren’t well managed.

Meanwhile, the high ratings for the proposed projects in Charlotte, Portland, and Minneapolis, each of which is likely to qualify for a FFGA in the next year, indicate that the FTA is increasingly promoting tying land use decisions to transit construction. Each of those cities has reformed their planning codes to focus intensive development in transit-area zones, and the FTA is clearly paying attention, as it should.

This is the last New Starts report before the writing of the next transportation bill, which may include important changes in the way projects are funded, and which is likely to significantly increase expenditures for transit capacity expansion project such as those charted below.

—–

This Year’s FTA Project Ratings
New Starts Recommended for FFGA
Project Total Cost 2030 Riders (new)
Starts Share Rating Federal $/Rider ($/New R)
Orlando, FL – Central Florida CR $356 m 7,400 (3,700)
50% MEDIUM 24 k (48 k)
New York, NY – ARC CR $8.7 b 254,200 (24,800)
34% MED-HI 12 k (119 k)
Sacramento, CA – South LRT II $270 m 10,000 (2,500) 50% MEDIUM 14 k (54 k)
Houston, TX – North LRT $677 m 29,000 (7,500)
49% MEDIUM 11 k (44 k)
Houston, TX – Southeast LRT $681 m 28,700 (4,500)
49% MEDIUM 12 k (74 k)
New Starts In Limbo
Project Total Cost 2030 Riders (new)
Starts Share Rating Federal $/Rider ($/New R)
Boston, MA – Silver BRT III $1.7 b 85,900 (13,700)
60% MED-LOW 12 k (74 k)
Miami, FL – Orange North HR II $1.3 b 22,600 (13,000)
47% MED-LOW 27 k (47 k)
New Starts FFGA Likely Soon
Project Total Cost 2030 Riders (new)
Starts Share Rating Federal $/Rider ($/New R)
Hartford, CT – Hartford-New Britain BRT $554 m 15,100 (4,300) 48% MEDIUM 18 k (62 k)
San Francisco, CA – Central Subway LRT $1.3 b 42,200 (4,800)
59% MED-HI 18 k (160 k)
Denver, CO – East EMU $2 b 37,900 (7,600)
39% MEDIUM 21 k (103 k)
Denver, CO – Gold EMU $840 m 16,800 (2,700)
28% MEDIUM 14 k (87 k)
Minneapolis, MN – Central  LRT $909 m 41,700 (6,300)
50% MED-HI 11 k (72 k)
Charlotte, NC – Northeast LRT $749 m 10,500 (3,500)
50% MED-HI 36 k (107 k)
Portland, OR – Milwaukie LRT $1.2 b 27,400 (10,200)
50% MED-HI 22 k (59 k)
Small Starts Recommended for PCGA
Project Total Cost Riders (new) / Year Open
Starts Share Rating
Flagstaff, AZ – Mt. Links BRT* $10 m 4,150 (500) / 2010 60% MEDIUM
Livermore, CA – Rt. 10 BRT* $22 m 4,500 (900) / 2008 50% MEDIUM
L.A., CA – Metro Rapid Gap Closure* $35 m 123,100 (40,000) / 2008 48% MED-HI
L.A., CA – Wilshire BRT* $32 m 40,000 / 2011 74% MEDIUM
Monterey, CA – BRT $4 m 4,000 / 2016 80% MEDIUM
San Joachin, CA – Airport BRT $10 m 4,000 / 2014
29% MED-HI
Riverside, CA – Perris Valley CR* $169 m 3,400 (800) / 2011
44% MED-HI
San Bernardino, CA – E Street BRT $163 m 8,700 (800) / 2011 46% MEDIUM
San Diego, CA – Mid-City BRT* $43 m 15,000 / 2010
50% MED-HI
Fort Collins, CO – Mason BRT* $82 m 3,900 (400) / 2010
80% MEDIUM
Roaring Fork, CO – BRT $46 m 3,700 / 2013
56% MED-HI
Fitchburg, MA – CR Improvements* $150 m 10,800 (700) / 2012
50% MED-HI
Kansas City, MO – Troost BRT* $31 m 9,000 (1,200) / 2010
80% MEDIUM
Austin, TX – MetroRapid BRT $47 m 20,300 / 2011 80% MEDIUM
Bellevue-Redmond, WA – BRT* $27 m 3,500 (300) / 2011 75% MEDIUM
Seattle, WA – Pacific Hwy BRT* $25 m 8,200 / 2015 56% MEDIUM
Small Starts PCGA Likely Soon
Project Total Cost Riders (new) / Year Open
Starts Share Rating
Oakland, CA – East Bay BRT $235 m 42,600 (6,800) / 2016
32% HIGH
San Francisco, CA – Van Ness BRT $109 m 70,500 (1,600) / 2011
63% MED-HI
New York City, NY – Nostrand BRT $84 m 17,000 / 2011 21% HIGH
Grand Rapids, MI – Division BRT $36 m 7,200 (1,300) / 2012
80% MEDIUM
Exempt Projects (less than $25 m fed share) – Funded
Project Total Cost Riders (new) / Year Open Starts Share Rating
Stamford, CT – Urban Transitway BRT $48 m n/a 51% n/a
Wilmington, DE – CR Improvements $78 m 5,000 / 2020 32% n/a
Providence, RI – South County CR $49 m 2,300 / 2020 51% n/a
Exempt Project (less than $25 m fed share) – Still In Engineering
Project Total Cost Riders (new) / Year Open
Starts Share Rating
Tucson, AZ – Streetcar $150 m 3,600 / 2011 17% n/a
Boston, MA – Assembly Sq HR Station $48 m n/a 52% n/a

—–

* Already announced
Ratings are: Low / Medium-Low / Medium / Medium-High / High; projects must receive a Medium to be approved for funding.
Exempt projects do not have to fulfill the same requirements as more expensive New or Small Start projects and are therefore not rated.

17 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Woody

    Count me unenthused.

    The list of funded projects reads like the triumphant last year of the Bush Administration, and I thought we voted them out more than six months ago. The Bushies told the local agencies that they wanted to fund BRT, so BRT proposals they got. We’ll be stuck with second best on a dozen routes for a decade or more. How long does it take government to admit a mistake? O.K. Make it, we’ll be stuck with these BRT lines for decades to come.

    And the tunnel for Jersey Transit to reach Manhattan. That will be a multibillion-dollar monument to one state going alone, with no effort by the feds, or by the several NY State Governors we’ve seen lately in Albany, no effort to come up with the best tunnel investment for future Amtrak service, or anybody else.

    I’m not convinced the damn thing works best for New Jersey. But they want it their way and looks like they will get it their way. Then we’ll need a third new tunnel under the Hudson if we want more fast trains on the Northeast Corridor. Will there be any money left for the needed new tunnel for Amtrak after we pay for Jersey’s very own tunnel? It’s been a hundred years since the last one.

    Maybe the new Obama-LaHood
    team will do better next year, but this year, I give ‘em a D.

  • I can’t help noticing that the ARC has the second highest cost per new rider on the list, after the Central Subway. Poorly designed projects are inherently costly.

  • Alon –
    In response to your comment, I added a column to the chart with a slightly different metric – Federal Dollars/Rider and Federal Dollars/New Rider. I’m obviously not a defender of the ARC project’s serious problems, but — at least from Washington’s perspective — that comparison makes it appear more reasonable.

  • Okay, by federal dollars per new rider the project is still second worst, but other projects at least come close. And the Central Subway is far and away the most expensive, and arguably the only one that’s as ill-conceived as ARC.

  • Edmund Carson

    I understand the problems with ARC, but what’s supposedly wrong with the central subway? It’s clearly expensive, but from the other side of the continent it looks like a very real need.

  • Boris

    Alon,

    Regarding ARC, what’s the alternative to building a new tunnel under the Hudson? Tunnels are inherently expensive.

  • Woody

    Boris, you’re right, of course, that any tunnel under the Hudson will cost billions of bucks. So let’s do it right.

    The way I see it, if you’re going to plunk down $3 billion of federal money, you might as well be ready to drop another billion or two to solve more than one problem.

    Nobody — very much including Secretary LaHood — seems to be looking ahead to make this project work for everybody. There’s almost nothing here in added NEC capacity for Amtrak, or back-up in case of security or repair problems on the old Amtrak tunnel, nothing for connectivity of LIRR trains or MetroNorth service into Jersey. No one is planning regionally or looking at the problems from a national service point of view.

    Maybe they squeezed a billion out of the cost by making this a minimum capacity dead-end to nowhere tunnel. So in a few years we’ll need a third tunnel for sure. well, in a few years it will be the multibillion dollar problem of some other set of politicians and agency chiefs, so who cares.

    I suppose if they designed the thing to allow for future use by MetroNorth and LIRR trains, and to add substantially to Amtrak frequencies, the fed rules would not give them any credit for that. The right hand column figures on the table above would only look worse. The numerator (cost of project) would be higher, but unless and until the connections are made at the other end, from Grand Central and Long Island, or added tracks on the NEC, and local operating funding committed, the denominator (total riders) would remain the same. So the funding formula works against long range thinking.

  • Tom

    Gee, I’m so glad SEPTA has had the foresight to plan some expansions and soak up all this money…..damn SEPTA.

  • Mad Park

    ARC is a self-serving, NON-national interest project in which the feds should invest US$0 unless there are through and/or replacement tunnels for the 100 year old tunnels into Penn Station. If ARC does not connect and contribute to the national passenger rail system it should not be built w/ federal $. Interoperability w/ MN, LIRR and Amtrak should be minimum requirements for any federal funding. Now, if NJ wish to build it on their own and also construct a station on the West Side of Manhattan on their own… well that would be the taxpayers of New Jersey’s business.

  • Boris: if I’m not mistaken, two thirds of the ARC costs are not for the tunnel, but for the new station. The alternative solution, building tunnels that connect to the existing station, would then cost one third as much. If it leads to through-routing of the LIRR and NJT, then it will also attract more new riders, as it suddenly becomes feasible to live in New Jersey and work in Long Island or vice versa.

  • Adirondacker

    The new riders estimate for the ARC tunnel is too low. Once it becomes easier to get into Manhattan on the train they will start riding the train – less SRO trains during rush hour and maybe some more frequency off hours… Midtown Direct met it’s ten year passenger projection within months of being put into service. People fairly regularly have to stand between Summit and New York.

    There’s almost nothing here in added NEC capacity for Amtrak

    NJ Transit will no longer be in the existing tunnels, the bottleneck is the tunnels. There’s lots going on between the tunnels, both sets, and Newark that will increase reliability and capacity. Portal Bridge being replaced for instance.

    nothing for connectivity of LIRR trains or MetroNorth service into Jersey.

    While there are extreme commuters who go from Long Island to New Jersey or New Jersey to Westchester or whatever combination you want to confect, it’s not a lot of people. While it is expensive there already is service between Metro North and New Jersey, Amtrak. There’s never going to be LIRR trains in New Jersey unless someone wants to spend lots of money on third rail or dual mode trains. Or lots of money on catenary or dual mode trains to get NJ Transit trains onto Long Island or into Metro North other than the New Haven line. … and Metro North will be using the new station, the lines west of the Hudson. The outer unbuilt tracks in Secausus Transfer will be used for those lines. I suppose that is going to make it Secausus Junction.

    dead-end to nowhere tunnel

    34th and 7th is somewhere. It’s why 600,000 people a day go there.

    It’s a dead end until they scare up the money to connect it to the LIRR station under Grand Central. Which would make both of them connect to something, though why someone would take a LIRR train to Penn Station via Grand Central escapes me. Or why the LIRR would do that unless they wanted to take the train to the West Side Yards.

    add substantially to Amtrak frequencies

    Amtrak will be getting additional frequencies out of it. NJ Transit will not be using the existing tunnels for years if not decades after the new tunnels open. The LIRR was hoping to decrease service to Penn Station when Grand Central opened but I’ve read that their passenger projections predict that they won’t be able to. I suspect Amtrak’s problems are going shift from the North River tunnels to the East River Tunnels.

    If ARC does not connect and contribute to the national passenger rail system it should not be built w/ federal $.

    Then the Second Avenue Subway shouldn’t be getting any money. Or the LIRR’s East Side access. Or buses for Ottumwa Iowa

    if I’m not mistaken, two thirds of the ARC costs are not for the tunnel, but for the new station.

    Drilling the hole it’s going to be in is going to be expensive but not 2/3rds of the cost. The new entrances etc would have to be done no matter what option they decided to build.

    building tunnels that connect to the existing station, would then cost one third as much.

    You have been in Penn Station at rush hour recently haven’t you? Add a 100,000 more people to that and you have to double deck the passengers to get them in and out. As it is they are predicting pedestrian traffic jams blocks away from the stations. I suppose they could tear everything down to the level of the ties and rebuild to improve passenger flows but that would screw up commuting for a decade.

    If it leads to through-routing of the LIRR and NJT, then it will also attract more new riders, as it suddenly becomes feasible to live in New Jersey and work in Long Island or vice versa.

    People can commute between Long Island to New Jersey and do, they change trains in Penn Station, Just like they would have to if the trains ran through except for the very small percentage that happen to live along a line that runs through to their job in New Jersey. ( or vice versa )

    If you want to run all the NJ Transit trains through to Long Island you have to build new East River Tunnels. The LIRR and Amtrak use three of the four tunnels in peak direction. There’s a lot of track work to be done in Penn. Station too. Many of the tracks don’t run through. . . if it’s even possible.

  • Rick

    The number for Charlotte at $749m for the Northeast extension is no longer correct. A recent CATS report shows this coming in at somewhere closer to $1.12 billion if CATS builds the line they really want, or $920m if they build a scaled back version.

    CATS said they still fit within the parameters for FTA funding, but they are not a MEDIUM-HIGH I would guess. However, they have been able to increase their ridership estimate somewhat for the Northeast line as well, so maybe it’s a wash.

  • There’s never going to be LIRR trains in New Jersey unless someone wants to spend lots of money on third rail or dual mode trains.

    You mean like the Metro North trains that use the New Haven Line? Hell, if the initial through-running is from Trenton to New Haven, then there will be less need for these dual-mode trains…

    It’s a dead end until they scare up the money to connect it to the LIRR station under Grand Central.

    If there weren’t a water tunnel in between, I’d be all for it. The prime reason the ARC project is stupid is that it inconveniently puts its station at a location where it’s physical impossible to continue east.

    If you want to run all the NJ Transit trains through to Long Island you have to build new East River Tunnels. The LIRR and Amtrak use three of the four tunnels in peak direction.

    They don’t have to, though. Peak traffic is 42-43 tph, which can be done with two tracks. The NJT and Amtrak run 25 tph peak through the North River Tunnels.

    And the idea isn’t to have the existing trains just continue beyond Penn. It’s to have the NJT and LIRR combine operations, so that they share trains; this way the LIRR train westbound in New Jersey serves the same function as the return-trip NJT train.

    Amtrak will be getting additional frequencies out of it. NJ Transit will not be using the existing tunnels for years if not decades after the new tunnels open.

    This is impossible. The new tunnels will have the same capacity as the old ones. The NJT can shift wholesale to ARC, iff there is no extra traffic. If the traffic you predict materialize, it will use both tunnels, leading to gridlock if one of the two pairs is disrupted.

  • Adirondacker

    You mean like the Metro North trains that use the New Haven Line?

    CDOT and Metro North would love it if the catenary ran all the way into Grand Central or third rail all the way to New Haven. ( I’m not sure Connecticut commuters would be too happy about third rail to New Haven. Or the NIMBYs about all the new substations ) It would make the trains much cheaper to buy and much cheaper to maintain. I assume since they haven’t done anything about that since 1915 there’s some technical reason why it hasn’t been done. . . Probably that the Park Ave tunnels aren’t high enough for catenary. Not to mention they would still have to maintain third rail between Woodlawn and Grand Central for the Harlem Line trains. If you rummage around in the MTA’s website there are plans to add service to Penn Station from Metro North’s territory. Once the capacity is freed up. By the ARC tunnel and terminal.

    Trenton to New Haven, then there will be less need for these dual-mode trains…

    But then the New Haven line goes from managing one type of train to two types of train. Metro North goes from managing two types of trains to three types of train. Then there’s the cost of running empty trains from Penn Station to Trenton in the morning rush hour and the expense of running empty trains from Trenton in the evening rush. Or empty trains to New Haven in the morning rush and empty trains from New Haven in the evening rush, however you want to look at it. Trains have to be staffed. They use electricity when they move. Their get maintained based on how many miles they travel. … costs a lot of money to run empty trains hither and yon. Which is why there are storage yards close to Penn Station and Grand Central. Probably need more rolling stock too. At the peak of rush hour instead of moving the last train from the yard to Penn Station or Grand Central it’s off somewhere between New Rochelle and Stamford. Or between Rahway and New Brunswick, Empty.

    If there weren’t a water tunnel in between, I’d be all for it. The prime reason the ARC project is stupid is that it inconveniently puts its station at a location where it’s physical impossible to continue east.

    Someone has to tell that to the Regional Plan Association. The RPA for all it’s problems is reasonably competent. They seem to think that extending east is an option. As in “Once ARC is in place it opens the way for future options to reach the east side of Midtown Manhattan.” They’ve dropped their support for a third station at Rockefeller Center and the fourth station “on the far west side” but still support one in the general vicinity of Grand Central. Taken from their March 2008 report.

    http://www.rpa.org/pdf/RPAARCandNYCReport.pdf

    There’s other similar references on their site.

    I’ve read comments along the line of “Water tunnel 3 is in the way!!!” Water tunnel 3 is west of the station and hundreds of feet deeper. If the station wasn’t as deep as it will be I’d be more concerned that the Sixth Ave IND would be in the way.

    Peak traffic is 42-43 tph, which can be done with two tracks.

    Then why do they use three? The MTA and Amtrak have their faults but they aren’t incompetent enough to use three tunnels when two would do. Or to have spent all the money they did to be able to do that.

    The NJT and Amtrak run 25 tph peak through the North River Tunnels.

    It’s 23. Which will be 48 someday.

    this way the LIRR train westbound in New Jersey serves the same function as the return-trip NJT train.

    Which is different from the engineer walking from one end of the train to the other and turning around how?

    This is impossible. The new tunnels will have the same capacity as the old ones.

    There will be four of them instead of two. With two tunnels they can manage 23 trains per hour in peak direction. With four tunnels they will be able to manage 48 in peak direction. That seems like a capacity improvement to me. Right now Amtrak and NJ Transit share the tunnels. After ARC is finished Amtrak will have the existing tunnels all to itself. NJ Transit will have the ARC tunnels all to itself. NJ Transit will go from whatever fraction of 23 they have now to 25 – via the ARC tunnels. Amtrak will go from whatever fraction of 23 they have now to 23 – via the existing tunnels. .

    If the traffic you predict materialize, it will use both tunnels

    I’m not predicting it, NJ Transit is. I’m sure the RPA or someone in the Federal government would have objected if they were wildly overstated. As it is I think they are understated. There’s lots of people out there who are avoiding the trains because they are so overcrowded.

    leading to gridlock if one of the two pairs is disrupted.

    It would lead to gridlock if it was one set of four tunnels too. As it does when there is a problem in the East River Tunnels or the Park Ave Tunnels or one of the four track subways….

  • Woody

    Adirondacker, you are making me feel much less discouraged about the Jersey tunnel. Thanks for your contributions to this discussion.

  • Then there’s the cost of running empty trains from Penn Station to Trenton in the morning rush hour and the expense of running empty trains from Trenton in the evening rush.

    They won’t run empty; Stamford and Edison are both major job centers. If the RER manages to fill its through-run trains west of La Defense in the morning and east of downtown Paris, an integrated LIRR-MNRR-NJT system will be able to as well. After all, New York has more edge city development than Paris.

    Someone has to tell that to the Regional Plan Association. The RPA for all it’s problems is reasonably competent. They seem to think that extending east is an option.

    They also seem to think that a loop track serving Hell’s Kitchen is an option, which makes me question their judgment.

    I’ve read comments along the line of “Water tunnel 3 is in the way!!!” Water tunnel 3 is west of the station and hundreds of feet deeper. If the station wasn’t as deep as it will be I’d be more concerned that the Sixth Ave IND would be in the way.

    It’s Water Tunnel 1, not Water Tunnel 3. And for the record, it is true that the station is planned to be where it is and not further east because otherwise it’d run into the tunnel.

    Then why do they use three? The MTA and Amtrak have their faults but they aren’t incompetent enough to use three tunnels when two would do. Or to have spent all the money they did to be able to do that.

    What reason do they have to use just 2? They don’t need 2 in the other direction – they park trains at Penn Station instead of immediately sending them back east. If they’d built this line from scratch they might have included only 3 tracks, but they didn’t; the PRR did, planning on using it for frequent traffic in both directions between Penn Station and Atlantic Terminal.

    Which is different from the engineer walking from one end of the train to the other and turning around how?

    First, dwell times. It takes the engineer time to walk back and then set up at his new post – the subway’s terminal dwells bottom at 3-4 minutes at rush hour, and I believe the subway runs shorter trains than the LIRR. The only subway line that achieves terminal dwells lower than 3 minutes is the 42nd Street Shuttle, which has an engineer at the front and a conductor at the back who stay in their positions and switch roles every time the train turns around. I’m sure the union representing the engineers would love to have such a solution for commuter rail, but for the people who have to spend the extra money, it’s a nightmare.

    And second, convenient transfers and one-seat rides. Right now, to get from Long Island to Edison, you need to change trains at Penn Station, which is mildly inconvenient, somewhat more so than at Jamaica. ARC will also permit MNRR-NJT transfers, but they will be extremely inconvenient, since the MNRR will stop at Subsurface Penn Station and the NJT at Deep Penn Station.

    In most cases, the best thing to do is take a cue from systems that work. For commuter rail, that’s Paris and Tokyo. Tokyo and Paris both have extensive through-running. In Tokyo, this through-running sometimes involves trains switching from one private company’s lines to another. In Paris the commuter rail system was revived by through-running; in Philadelphia through-running had positive effects as well, though unfortunately they were swamped by a months-long transit strike.

    Amtrak will go from whatever fraction of 23 they have now to 23 – via the existing tunnels. .

    Right now Amtrak tops at 3 tph; during the NJT’s rush hour, it has 2 tph. Once the NJT adds these 2 extra tph to its schedule, it’ll need to use Subsurface Penn Station as overflow, requiring commuters to know exactly which station to head to in the evening.

    It would lead to gridlock if it was one set of four tunnels too. As it does when there is a problem in the East River Tunnels or the Park Ave Tunnels or one of the four track subways….

    A quad-track line loses less capacity than two separate two-track lines. If a quad-track line, say the East River Tunnels, loses one track, then trains can be run 2/1. It’s annoying, but if there’s enough room on the other side, then it’s doable. If two two-track lines lose one track, then one two-track line is fine, and the other is shut down. Running 1/0 is impossible – it requires the NJT to post notices everywhere telling people that only the next X trains will use the station that lost an access track and all other trains will depart from the remaining station. The loss of capacity then as well as the inconvenience is much larger.

  • Sean

    Yonah had a good alternative proposal to the ARC tunnel project, one that I support wholeheartedly.

    Build a new tunnel connecting the Hoboken terminal to Manhattan under the Hudson River. In Lower Manhattan, the tracks would split, with service to Grand Central and Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn by way of a new East River Tunnel.

    I would also add two new tunnels for Amtrak HSR that would parallel the existing two track tunnel under the Hudson River and feed into Penn Station.

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