ARC Project Definitively Cancelled, But There Are Other Ways to Improve New Jersey’s Transit Future

» Capacity on New Jersey Transit can be expanded by transforming the system.

Access to the Region’s Core was to be the nation’s largest investment in transit, ever: At a cost of $8.7 billion, the project would have dramatically expanded rail capacity between New York and New Jersey by doubling the number of rail tracks available for use under the Hudson River. The result could have been a large increase in service on New Jersey Transit’s commuter rail and Amtrak’s intercity rail operations.

The project is now dead. After a two-week review demanded by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has reaffirmed his decision to stop all work on a scheme for which he argues the state has no money. In other words, the ARC tunnel is low on the Governor’s priority list and certainly not worth raising taxes for: Instead, he has increased transit fares by more than he has road tolls and has done nothing to shore up the major deficits looming in the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. In consequence, Mr. Christie has shown himself to be uninterested in investing in infrastructure for the state’s future.

It’s a disappointing coda to a month of suspense about a project that plenty of New Jerseyans assumed was guaranteed after construction began a few months ago. And it means that it will be virtually impossible to add any more New Jersey Transit or Amtrak trains between New Jersey and New York — for several decades.

All hope for the future of transit connections between the two states, however, is not lost.

New Jersey Transit and Amtrak have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the limitations in tunnel capacity to reform the way they do business, to improve and speed up operations in ways that will bring some benefit to their customers but also seriously increase the number of people that can travel under the Hudson River to work every day. Without making changes, trains will become more and more packed and the total ridership of the services will be limited.

Here’s a comparison worth taking in: Whereas New Jersey Transit carries roughly 275,000 riders a day on its entire rail system, Paris’ RER Line A — one corridor, running through the center of the city using just two tracks — is able to handle a million users daily. It’s a squeeze, and the region is planning to build an relief line, but it still works. How can New Jersey Transit be facing such constraints with so many fewer riders?

The explanation is the agency’s steadfast adherence to the rule that commuter trains are different than rapid transit ones — primarily, that they have to offer each and every one of their riders a comfortable seat. This limits maximum train capacity to about 1,400 passengers when using ten multi-level cars such as the ones pictured above. While this may seem like a lot of people, with only limited tunnel capacity there are only so many trains that can make the trip into Manhattan during peak hours. If the agency were to simply remove a dozen seats or so per car and replace them with standing areas, trains would be capable of carrying up to 2,000 people apiece. There’s a huge bump in capacity, at virtually no cost. The RER A has a relatively even mix of standing and seating areas, and that’s one of the primary reasons it’s able to move so many more people.

Of course, this would come at a comfort cost to the people who now ride the trains, since what had once been a comfortable ride may be replaced by a standing-room only train. But that may be the price to pay if New Jersey Transit wants to ensure that it can transport all the people that need to get into New York City every day.

Amtrak would not be able to make a similar compromise, since it would be unreasonable for any intercity rail service to force its riders to stand, but the lack of additional Hudson River capacity should encourage the national rail operator to expand the length of its trains so that it can carry a larger number of people using the same amount of tunnel space. It is outrageous that the Acela Express service — which hogs 20 of the slots through the Hudson tunnels in each direction daily — only has six passenger cars, one of which is half-filled by a cafe. All of the stations at which these trains stop have the ability to handle at least two more cars per train; if Amtrak desired, it could add these cars to its current rolling stock.

In other words, neither New Jersey Transit nor Amtrak need more capacity under the river right now. They simply must find a way to adapt their existing operations to these newly imposed constraints. Will they be able to do so, or will they leave some potential customers behind?

Governor Christie has been a weak proponent of transit, as is manifested by his decision to cancel ARC. Yet the sudden availability of $3 billion in Port Authority funds once dedicated to the project and the theoretical availability of a similar amount of state money once designated for the program mean that this is also an intriguing moment for thinking about new ways to invest in New Jersey’s transit system. If Mr. Christie obliges, rather than insisting that local dollars go to roads and encouraging the Port Authority to spend away in New York City, some of the funds could go towards the rehabilitation of the Northern Branch and Passaic-Bergen corridors; others could be spent on improvement projects in the Philadelphia suburbs. These would have a minor effect on overall travel patterns compared to the ARC tunnel but would be far less expensive and still worthwhile.

While harping on the importance of ARC has been an essential effort — how else to defend it? — at this point Governor Christie is not going to change his mind. Thus transit proponents have a responsibility to find constructive, helpful ways to define a different mobility future for New Jersey that does not include it, at least for the next few decades. They have a choice: Should they let Mr. Christie control the transportation agenda entirely by refocusing the state’s funds on roads? Or can they play an important role in demanding that the limited funds are spent on prioritized investments that will benefit the state’s public transportation network?

Image above: A New Jersey Transit train in Metropark, from Flickr user Phillip Capper (cc)

127 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • FG

    Hear hear! A terrific and sensible suggestion.

  • Transportation planner in LI

    The Money will likely go to the JFK/Lower Manhattan Extension for the LIRR.

  • Also worth noting…through-running trains from NJTransit to LIRR would relieve a lot of the stress on Penn Station.

    • Nathanael

      Absolutely critical point there. NJT should not be doing so many reversals in Sunnyside Yard, when they could be carrying passengers onward and replacing LIRR trains…. would require some extra catenary or dual-modes, but it would be worth it.

  • KK

    From a regional planning perspective, ARC would have been a tremendous investment but without land use regulations may have perpetuated significant TOD, but also sprawl. There’s an opportunity here to make transit investments to help inner-ring suburbs and core cities in NJ more competitive as a housing and office location choice.

    Improving Newark and regional bus corridors to BRT-level service would be a big priority. Even $500M towards full-scale BRT to those riders that need it and use it most would be fantastic. Although, many of those folks will be towards a NYC destination which still depends on a new tunnel or as you suggest improved operations.

    • I’m not sure I see how improving Newark and regional bus corridors to BRT-level service allows Gov. Christie to raid funds for roadworks. That appears, after all, to be a prerequisite for getting the go ahead for a project.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Newark has had BRT-like services forever and ever, they just don’t call the bus that has been running since the trolleys were discontinued BRT.

    • David Keddie

      TOD isn’t even allowed near many (perhaps most) NJT stations, just look at Princeton Junction, one of the busiest stations in the system.

  • Kevin

    This is a great piece, but it also exposes what’s wrong with government-run transit: spending billions on marquee projects (ARC / Transbay Tunnel) instead of cheaper solutions (asking commuters to stand / crossing the Bay Bridge))

    A private company would long ago have pulled those seats from NJT trains. People who insisted on a seat might find themselves buying a premium Amtrak ticket on those extra cars.

    Once all trains were full of standees, then it’d be obvious it was time for a new tunnel (and with higher revenue-per-train more obvious how to pay for such a tunnel)

    The RER is a great example. Washington’s Metro is also a good example (originally run more like a commuter railroad, they’ve learned to pull seats with each new generation of cars as their lines get more subway-like)

    • Eric

      I believe the RER and Washington Metro are both government-run transit. And privately-owned transit, I believe, proved to be unprofitable in most cities around the world, yet cities couldn’t do without this vital service, so the systems of cities like Chicago and New York were taken over by government. However, running a public service LIKE a private corporation is another matter, and perhaps a good idea. Lines 2 and 3 of the Athens metro are run by Attiko Metro, a government agency that’s run like a private corporation, unlike Line 1 that is run by the old-fashioned model by another govt agency called ISAP. Why the 3 lines (along with the 2 light rail lines) were not merged into a single agency beats me, but has now been proposed in light of the fiscal crisis.

      • J B

        Here here. It’s worth remembering that transit is profitable and government run in many cities throughout the world. Perhaps instead of MTA bashing politicians should look into using a similar model.

        • J B

          Ugh, should be “hear hear”. Also I forgot to point out, it may have remained profitable in New York if it wasn’t for the government interference (and road subsidies) in the first place.

          • Peter Laws

            Keep in mind that here in the USA, government is of/by/for the people. When cars started to get popular, particularly after the Model T, there was an immediate clamor for roads. The People said “do something” and the government (of/by/for those same people) said “OK, here you go”.

            And it didn’t take long for the effects to be felt. Remember, the gov’t nationalized the RRs during the USA’s part of WW-I because the RRs were already in dire straights and the gov’t had to ensure that freight would move in support of the war effort. Passenger counts were already way down by 1929 and you know the rest …

          • Yup, passenger counts soared in WWII as the country recovered from the Great Depression, but due to wartime constraints on investment in domestic capacity, and then passenger rail was taxed to raise general funds, in part to jumpstart civil aviation, and the massive cross-subsidy from urban motorists to suburban and rural motorists began in the 1950’s.

            But the problem with that kind of massive cross-subsidy is that it provides the strongest boost to the recipients when there are relatively many providing the cross-subsidy and relatively few recipients. And since the cross-subsidy helped drive suburbanization, that meant that over the decades, inexorably, the population share of suburban and rural recipients of highway fund cross subsidies increased and the population share of urban contributors of highway fund cross subsidies declined.

            And now we have a road system that over the Peak Oil crude oil price shocks of the coming system we won’t be able to maintain in its present state, because on the one hand it was never funded on a long-run sustainable basis in the first place, and on the other hand the full economic burden is set to escalate.

    • Ocean Railroader

      Instead of explanding the rail system to meet the population growth instead they ask people to stand. I would not take the train or stand in a train jammed to the gills with hoards of other people for 40 minutes only to be jammed into a overcrowed underground railroad station. This shows that our way of life is now in the decay stage in that we are not coming up or building anything new to meet the demands of the massive rail growth in the area. It’s like we are living off what was built so long ago. And our modern soulation a 100 years after these tunnels where built is to shove people into the trains and make them stand.

    • Nathanael

      This is not a problem with “government-run transit”, it’s a problem with balkanized transit. When multiple competing private companies ran transit, the same silliness ensued.

  • eldondre

    Ultimately the consequences will not be known for quite some time. ARC was an important but highly flawed project based on some dubious assumptions. In a perfect world, the project will be revived later, maybe even addressing the station itself. At any rate, I think you’re suggestion is interesting. I don’t know that people would want to stand from trenton but certainly some proportion of people with shorter commutes might be willing to stand. the issue with consist length is big. amtrak is nowhere near capacity. Most of the stops for the acela could probably accomodate 14 cars let alone 8 (basically all the old stations). then there’s the issue of through service. the station is at capacity because NJT has it’s trains sitting in the station yard, deadheading through the east river tunnels, etc. If someone could step in and force them to combine operations with the new haven line, that too should help capacity issues (at the station).

  • Paulus Magnus

    NJT’s seats are supposed to be comfortable?

    • Adirondacker12800

      I wouldn’t know the last time I planted myself in a rush hour NJTransit seat was in the 70s.
      … Yonah, the rush hour trains have been SRO for decades at least at Newark. The station they become SRO has been moving out and it’s not uncommon to have standees as far out as Summit and Metropark.

  • Tom West

    The standarrd in the UK is that communters on a regional train should only expect a seat if their journey is over 20 minutes, and I think that is a reasonable standard for NJT to adopt.

    For Amtrak: don’t forget it simply doesn’t have the rolling stock needed to lengthen its Acela trains. Given how full they are, I’m sure Amtrak would dearly love to run longer trains.

    • J B

      If it’s the case that Acela is one of Amtrak’s few profitable services, I’d say that’s ridiculous. Perhaps this is a reason why Amtrak ashould be privatized.

      • If you privatise Amtrak, and maintain the same service obligations, then instead of publicly-owned Amtrak telling the government it needs a subsidy, privately-owned Amtrak will be telling the government it needs a subsidy. Whether the profit squeezed out by the shareholders plus private waste and mismanagement will be greater or less than public waste and mismanagement is no sure thing either way.

        The Acela is one of the few Amtrak services that has an operating surplus, but profitable in the sense of covering its full economic cost from its farebox? Competing against subsidized air and heavily subsidized car transport makes that unlikely.

        And since nobody else runs 125mph+ trains in corridors on track regulated to allow heavy freight in a mid-20th century regulatory framework, its not like the Acela is off-the-shelf rolling stock.

        • J B

          If it was privatized it would presumably not have any service obligations- it would only run services that would have demand. I was under the impression that Acela was profitable as in covering its full operating costs, and then some. If that’s not the case then yes, we would have to remove road subsidies first.

      • Nathanael

        What a moronic suggestion. How would privatizing Amtrak get it any funding to buy more trains? Magic?

        Acela covers “above-the-rail” operating costs and then some. but someone has to pay for the tracks, just the way someone (and no, it’s not drivers) pays for the roads. Privatizing Amtrak, which is currently responsible for the tracks, would just be reinventing Penn Central.

        • Nathanael

          Incidentally, REALLY big picture here, the only way to make a total profit moving passengers — if you eliminate all the general government subsidies for competing modes first, of course — is to *pay more people better wages*. A sufficiently rich general populace might be able to afford decent transportation where all the costs were paid for by riders. As it is, practically nobody can, most car drivers certainly couldn’t afford to pay for all the roads they use.

          Of course transportation still needs government involvement to get right-of-way, which pretty much cannot be got privately.

        • J B

          If it’s profitable, profits could be invested in new trains, which presumably would make even more money. It’s not magic, it’s investment.

  • jim

    it will be virtually impossible to add any more New Jersey Transit or Amtrak trains between New Jersey and New York — for several decades.

    Well, no. More trains could be added. Just not between 7AM and 9AM weekdays (actually between 7AM and 8AM inbound and 8AM and 9AM outbound). Since a good chunk of the ARC funding was to buy NJ Transit additional rolling stock, and that funding too has been pulled, there’s little hope of NJ Transit adding trains any time soon anyway.

    Amtrak can add non-Acela trains to the south end of the NEC if it can get money to buy rolling stock. (Amtrak’s trains between New York and Boston are maxed out by the Coast Guard’s requirement that the Connecticut bridges not be closed too often.) Adding Acelas or adding cars to existing Acelas is problematic: there’s a fairly long discussion of the options in the fleet strategy paper.

    Having said that, the notion of creating standing areas on NJ Transit trains makes sense. With some care, the mix might enable all those boarding prior to Secaucus to sit and only those transferring at Secaucus to have to stand for the four mile run into New York (and in the afternoon for everyone left on after Secaucus to then find a seat).

    • What is movement between neighboring entry vestibules like in those NJT trains? The most straightforward expansion might be metro seating (sideways seating along the walls, standing room holds along the central area) in each second lower deck, so if it was decided to go to half metro seating, it would just be doing the same thing in the other half, rather than possibly redoing the seating of the whole fleet twice over.

      But that would of course require spillover.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Bruce, after Newark anyway, you can’t move in the vestibules, they are too crowded. It’s been the convention on the NEC and NJCL from WWII that standing in the vestibules is discouraged but not very effectively. Rumor has it they more stringently enforce that on the former Erie lines but the former Erie lines aren’t crowded.

        • In the inner suburban Cityrail trains, standing room is what the vestibules are used for, but that’s designed in from the beginning. Metro style seating, but poles / holds in the center of the vestibule for standing passengers.

          For examples, the Tangara and the Millenium Bug.

          If the vestibules are not passable, then the last row of seats in the lower deck on the left hand side on the technical drawing I’m looking at, and metro seats replacing the next six rows, would seem to be the kind of standing room that Yonah is talking about.

          Obviously maximum capacity would be double decker metro top and bottom, running back and forth through the tunnels, and changing trains to a greater number of services of outer suburban commuter trains once through the bottleneck.

          • FG

            Interesting link; I was just thinking that a problem with bi-level cars is that the ones I am familiar with have only one door, which makes station dwell times slower (does anybody know if there are figures for this, single vs bi level cars, number of doors etc), especially at a terminal station.

            What is the standard (if any) for length of standing for passengers on mass/rapid transit? It must be longer than 20 minutes.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Bruce, rush hour trains on the NEC have been SRO at Newark for as long as I can remember. They are already running 12 car multilevels with metro style seating at intermediate level – the one used at stations with level boarding. The drawing on Bombardier’s website is for one version of the coach. IIRC there’s three versions, the one with the highest capacity replaces the bathrooms with metro style seating that lifts up for passengers in wheelchairs.

    • Peter Laws

      Amtrak is rebuilding Amfleet cars that were sidelined for various reasons using ARRA money. They’ve also placed a new order for single-level (i.e. routes that touch the NEC), but most of those cars are not coaches.

    • David Keddie

      Variable pricing with higher fares during rush might encourage riders to adjust when they ride, similar to HOT lanes on highways.

  • John

    Amtrak and NJ Transit can do more, but another set of tunnels is needed. This is more of a long-term, let’s think about the next 100 years project, not just a short-term bandaid. Yes, NJ transit could remove seats from the trains, but that would deter people from using them. Can you imagine standing for up to 2 hours a day on a bumpy train? Exactly, it’s not a good idea.

    Another possibility is to have Amtrak start using bi-level cars on the NE Corridor. I was under the impression that the Hudson tubes were too short for bi-levels, but NJ Transit has custom ordered cars for those tunnels. Can Amtrak think about that when replacing the “AmFleet?” Not only would it increase capacity, it could possibly reduce NE Corridor fares by allowing more customers to travel on Amtrak.

    • As jim notes above, the trains do not have the same patronage north and south of Secaucus. I’ve not used the NJT, but the Cityrail system in Sydney has the same situation when their intercity all-seated V-Sets run through Sydney City at peak hour, or when the same all-seated trains leave from the intercity terminal platforms at Central Station.

      Yonah’s proposal is to remove less than 10% of the current seats, to increase peak capacity by 40%. If there is presently 10% spare seats south of Secaucus, then all longer distance passengers would find a seat in the morning and in the evening have a seat at least by the time the train pulls out of Secaucus.

  • Alurin

    @KEvin: Your post is self-contradictory. Clearly, other government-run transit agencies have been removing seating. Boston’s MBTA has also started doing this on the Red Line. The conflict between increasing capacity and maintaining passenger (customer) comfort would be faced by a private entity as well as a public entity.

    Furthermore, increasing the capacity of the trains is a short-term solution. Waiting until all the trains are packed with standing-room-only passengers is irrational. We should be investing in improving tunnel capacity now.

    • Kevin

      Yes MBTA’s Red line has made the right call on “bowling alley” seating. Sadly they have 2 operators on a train that only needs 1.

      It isn’t that Govt transit doesn’t sometimes make the right call, its that it *too often* they make the politically expedient and fiscally indefensible one.

    • Ocean Railroader

      The Pennsyvinia Railroad in the 1920’s would have been ordering their railroad builders to expand the system if the long distance passangers where running out of room on the trains and told to stand. But this is 2010 and the only idea right now we have is to make people stand.

      • David Keddie

        The Pennsylvania railroad used to bring in more revenue than the federal government, but passenger rail is rarely profitable in competition with the speed of airplanes and the flexibility of automobiles. I’m still quite surprised that NJTransit doesn’t turn a profit, at least on the NEC. It costs $30 round trip from Princeton Junction with trains packed out. I wonder if it would be possible to be subsidy free on the NEC if NJT was run like a business. If rail could be profitable anywhere in the US surely the New Jersey part of the NEC is it.

        • Nathanael

          As long as money is poured into expanding the New Jersey highway system, with its two severely underpriced toll roads, it’s gonna be hard for NJT to turn a profit.

          Unless NJ raises its absurdly low gas tax to actually fund its roads from the gas tax (rather than the current cross-subsidization from other taxes).

          And until peak oil drives gas prices way up. Then NJT will probably start turning a profit. Of course THEN the Republicans will demand that it be privatized, because they hate the idea of taxpayers ever making a profit on anything.

  • capt subway

    In all the sound and fury surrounding the cancellation of this project no mention is ever made on how ill conceived the deep level dead end terminal under 34th St actually is. (You could fit the Statue of Liberty into one of the elevator shafts with a few more feet to spare.) The Arc tunnels should have connected to the existing Penn Sta, finally providing both Amtrak and NJT the redundancy they so sorely need around this 100 year old two track choke point on what is otherwise a mostly 4 track corridor. At the same time the Penn Sta connection could have reduced the total price tag for the project by from a third to almost a half. I had done some consulting for advocacy groups and, rest assured, the Penn Sta connection is perfectly feasible from an engineering and train operations POV. What little work has been done thus far would not prevent the tunnels from being redirected into Penn, if this projected should ever be revived.

    • This was actually mentioned @ttpolitic in the post on 17 September:

      Just to be clear from the start, there are a lot of things to dislike about New Jersey’s Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project. Despite an expected construction cost of $8.7 billion, it won’t provide New Jerseyans a direct ride to Manhattan’s east side but instead duplicate the existing path to Penn Station. Instead of taking advantage of excess capacity at that west side terminal, the project will force customers into a massive (and very expensive) new terminal deep underground.

      .

    • Eric

      As Bruce mentioned, Transport Politic had pointed out the proposal’s flaws, which perhaps make the project’s cancellation a blessing? Hopefully the project is revived with TP’s recommendations. :)

  • Kevin

    You could probably thru-run NJT over the Hell Gate and as far as New Rochelle and get way more connectivity benefits and way more Penn congestion relief for a lot less money.

    The sick thing is that the MTA think’s it is its turf. See their 2002 plan for serving Penn-Hell-Gate-Bronx
    (http://www.mta.info/mta/planning/psas/overview.html)

  • capt subway

    Well that’s the whole problem: each operator wants his own sand box and doesn’t want to share it with anyone else. This is the reason LIRR East Side access is building this new deep level GCT under the existing GCT, even though the existing station has considerable track space to spare. In the case of NJT not wanting to share a station with Amtrak or LIRR there’s no one to force the issue. But WTF, in the case of GCT the MTA runs both the LIRR and the MNR. It seems to me someone at the top of the MTA should have made a command decision. But then, what can you expect from the politically connected hacks, clueless on operating issues, who are at the top of most of these agencies?

    And yes Kevin, an ARC tunnel connecting to the existing Penn Sta would have greatly facilitated through-routing, even without the long proposed connection between Penn & GCT in midtown Manhattan.

    • It makes a narrow sense, however, since given the unreliability of everyone’s systems due in part to maintenance backlogs all over the place, every system is concerned that inter-operating with one of the other systems will import additional unreliability on top of the unreliability that they are struggling with themselves.

      With ~ as this decision shows ~ no assured long term capital funding base, and with the patchwork quilt of different means trying to provide operating subsidies, themselves falling short of the operating subsidy received by the competing automobile system, improved reliability is seen as a major part of improved farebox revenue, but then everyone trying to run as close to a closed system as they can inflates the capital cost of improvements.

  • matt

    i must say that you must have comfortable seats for everyone if you want people to continue riding an 80 minute train in and out of the city each day. i have done this on NJ transit for the past two years – there is no way id still be taking the train if i could only stand. people do stand. a lot actually. especially as you get closer to new york. luckily, i had an early stop on the line.

  • Stewart Clamen

    People *do* stand between Penn and Secaucus. And am I correct that there’s no need to check tickets on that (short) segment, because Secaucus has turnstiles?

    I’ve seen people stand (and I’ve even done it once, and I’m not a commuter) to Newark and beyond (this on the NEC line). If the standard is “can stand for 20 minutes”, that’s more or less already observed. Note that the trip from NY Penn to Newark Penn is scheduled at 17-20min (depending on time of day), so it’s on the border.

    • Yes, Secaucus has turnstiles. That’s a major flaw of the station – it makes transferring there a more painful experience.

      On well-run commuter rail systems, there’s no need to check tickets, period. Either there’s a POP system, in which tickets are checked randomly, or there are turnstiles, so tickets are checked at the stations.

    • If they are full seater trains, except for metro seating in the mezzanine for wheelchairs and supposedly bikes, and they are hitting standing room only in the northern part of their route, they need to have some metro seating.

      And, at the same token, if there is standing beyond 20 minutes or so, they also need more trains.

      But what can NJT do about the latter in the face of a Governor making a cash grab to punt the accumulating road liabilities that NJ is accumulating and not paying for, by forcing raising public transport fares while leaving gas taxes fixed? It seems like, nothing, except maybe pray for a better governor someday.

      What can they do about the fact that the seating in their trains is a mismatch with transport demand. That, they could address.

  • Jason Stockmann

    David Marcus has the right idea. Part of the reason for the RER’s efficiency is the fact that all lines run straight through the center of Paris. However, I don’t think that LIRR M-7 railcars are equipped to run in New Jersey, where both the voltage and number of cycles per second are different from those on Long Island. This is the same reason the new Metro North New Haven Line M-8 cars will be unable to run west of the Hudson. It’s a terrible fracture in the region’s rail system that goes back to poor planning a century ago. However, as evidenced by the special Meadowlands service, NJ Transit trains *are* able to run on the New Haven Line via the Hell’s Gate Bridge. Maybe NJ Transit trains could also run to Long Island? The $3 billion in Port Authority money should go toward modifying Penn Station to make through-train service possible.

    • Daniel Krause

      I wonder what it would cost to achieve a true crosstown route that would have stops at both Grand Central and Penn, and all the necessary modifications that would be needed to allow for both LIRR and NJT to access NJ and Long Island respectively?

    • Don

      I don’t think there was poor planning a century ago. In fact, there was really good planning. Now, there is really poor planning.

      Penn Sta was originally built with 600 VDC overrunning third rail as was it’s step-child the LIRR. The third rail still existed thru the Hudson River tunnels into the 1960s. The PRR even borrowed the original FL9 diesel locomotives to try on the New York and Long Branch (now North Jersey Coast Line) so they could eliminate the engine change at South Amboy.

      The New Haven’s overhead AC electrification predated the PRR’s and was the same voltage and frequency as the PRR’s In the early days of Amtrak, GG1s and Metroliners could and did run thru to New Haven. The New Haven’s electric locomotive fleet and the FL9s could and did run through to GCT and Penn Station.

      The NH electrics were equipped with underunning third rail shoes and the FL9s had adjustable third rail equipment.

      The lack of coordinated planning occurred when Penn Central was split into Conrail, Amtrak, MetroNorth/LIRR and NJT. The first example of this was MetroNorth’s decision to replace the 11kVAC, 25 Hz power from their Cos Cob power plant with 12kVAC 60 Hz power without regard for the future plans Amtrak and Conrail for their current or future electrification. This forced Amtrak to purchase electric locomotive capable of running on 3 types of overhead power instead of just two and rendered Conrail’s electric fleet obsolete for operation on the former NH, which was the death knell for freight service on the west end of the shore line.

      The ARC tunnel was just the most recent example of a solution that was optimum for one NEC owner but sub-optimum for the region.

      • David Keddie

        What a shame that the system was broken up into different political fiefdoms.

      • Nathanael

        Don’t blame Metro-North here. First of all, 12kV 60Hz uses precisely the same on-train equipment as 25kv 60Hz, just, well, with “less power”. Second, Amtrak originally announced that it was going to switch everything to 25kV 60 Hz — NJT electrified its connecting lines at this standard in anticipation, and Amtrak used this on the electrification to Boston.

        Then Amtrak never found the money or urgency to do the switchover (though they *did* switch the Hell Gate line recently). But it makes sense for Metro-North to pursue the original plan. They only went with 12Kv due to bridge clearances which meant 25kV had severe arcing risks.

    • Nathanael

      {enn Station and “points south” need to be converted to 25kv 60Hz AC anyway, it’s in the long term plans. NJT is retiring the only cars which can’t switch between that and the 12Hz system on-the-fly. This makes it fairly straightforward to through-run to New Haven. Through-running to LI is a matter of building a set of M-8s with shoes the “other way”, which is not complicated given that the M-7 is from the same design as the M-8 mostly.

  • George

    This project is never going to be revived. If we won’t build it now, we won’t ever. It was 25 years in the making and one wacko governor killed it with the stroke of a pen.

    America has made it very clear that rail transit is not a priority, so why bother with this pie-in-the-sky thinking? Apparently having state-of-the-art infrastructure is something for countries like China; America should stick to diesel bus service and maintaining its crumbling highways.

    • Which brings up an interesting question:

      Why?

      More specifically, why is a political decision to kill a project such as this, apparently irreversible–unless one is willing to start over from scratch? I know part of the answer–the moneys from other sources will be re-appropriated elsewhere–but other than that, why can’t a Record of Decision specifying no-build be rescinded at some point in the future? If the voters in New Jersey were to oust Christie at the end of his term, and the next governor willing to restart the project, is there any part of the planning and analysis done over the past decades that can be reused incorporated into the resumed project, or must it all be redone de novo?

      Or would permitting withdrawals of no-build decisions be a bad idea–given that there are hundreds of killed road projects which could conceivably be restarted?

      • Chris

        The problem is that the planning in question isn’t in the form of engineering surveys and blueprint drawing, but negotiation between interest groups. Momentum (usually created in public works by a stepwise, deadline-based approvals process) is the only thing that stops the constantly shifting leadership of all these groups from constantly demanding changes. If the project were to be restarted, all these groups would see an opportunity to make changes in order to advance their pet issue. Without momentum, it’s difficult to defend the project against powerful interest groups demanding alterations.

        • EngineerScotty

          As it is, it’s difficult to defend the project against powerful interest groups demanding its abandonment.

          • Chris

            I regard that as less fundamental to the democratic process, and more related to the lack of specific revenue attached to this project. Anytime a project is funded through general tax revenue (which is easily reallocable to other purposes) it is needlessly exposed to cancellation or scale reduction. This could have been fixed at the planning stage by funding New Jersey’s contribution not through general state tax revenue but through, e.g., sales tax surcharges in the communities that would benefit from the tunnel.

            As it stands people in southern Jersey, or non-commuter towns in central Jersey, will hardly blame Christie for failing to spend their money on a project for the other half of the state. A project like this one generates plenty of local surplus for its direct beneficiaries and if they exclusively fund it, it’s a lot more likely to get done.

            If the project had dedicated revenue, there would be fewer people calling for its elimination, because they couldn’t take the cash and apply it elsewhere.

          • Adirondacker12800

            sales tax surcharges in the communities that would benefit from the tunnel.

            90% of New Jerseyans live withing 5 miles of an operating train station.

      • FG

        Could it be forced back to life via a ballot initiative (does NJ have these?)?

        • jim

          No. It’s dead in its current form. When people talk of reviving it, what they mean is a new project which incorporates portions of it. The 34th St. station is totally dead. As is the Secaucus bypass, the Secaucus loop and the Kearny yard. What might get resurrected as part of a new project is the Palisades tunnel (which is actually contracted for and being built) and the Hudson tunnel (which got as far as being specified and potential bidders being qualified before Christie brought the hammer down). Possibly the southern Portal bridge, too, though (personal opinion) I’d doubt it. Some of the paperwork done for the ARC project might be reusable in a new project. It is imaginable that a new project might start with the 2007 ARC DEIS and then submit a new supplemental DEIS cutting out a bunch of the work (propose a Revised Build option) and pointing out that not doing that stuff would have even less environmental impact than doing it :).

          The question is who would be the executive agent for such a new project. NJT won’t be: their boss wouldn’t allow it. The PA won’t be: it would take agreement between the governors for that to happen. If LaHood is sufficiently mad at Christie, if he’s taken this personally, he could tell Amtrak to take it on. Amtrak ought to be lobbying him to do that: put me in, coach. LaHood obviously has funding options up his sleeve.

          But nothing will happen immediately. LaHood has requested NJ reimburse the Federal Government for the funds it has spent on ARC so far. There won’t be a new project until that money has safely changed hands.

  • What is the designed passenger load for these cars? I only know the Bombardier BiLevel (as opposed to these “MultiLevel” cars), and they top out around 400. Just after the Twins started playing at Target Field, a 5-car Northstar carried 2,188 passengers, for instance. Of course, that was during a fairly enthusiastic period when people were willing to put up with it for a day. Metro Transit runs longer trains for game days now so people aren’t squeezed so much.

    It’s a good idea to look at taking out some seats, though I’m still not sure how effective it would be when most people will be departing at the final stop anyway. Creating more standing room is more effective when people need to move both in and out. If through-running trains ever happened, it’d probably be more important for those to have reduced seating than for existing trains.

    Other than through-running, I’d just suggest that NJT and Amtrak to do what they can to reduce wasted space as they purchase new equipment. Single-level trains like the Northeast Regional should be changed to bi-level and the Acela should definitely be longer (and yes, it will take new cars/trainsets for that to happen). For trains that are already bi-level, articulated cars that share trucks/bogies would also free up some space.

    • DBX

      There’s another problem for Amtrak — the Penn Tunnels in Baltimore. It would have to be whichever of the MARC and NJT loading gauge is the smaller. Nonetheless, a good idea. Now, will the FRA sufficiently amend regulations to allow European-style EMU high speed trains to be built in this manner for the US market in a mixed traffic environment?

      • mulad

        Looks like the NJT MultiLevels would be the better fit if Amtrak went bi-level — they’re 14′ 6″ instead of MARC’s 15′ 6.5″ Kawasaki bi-levels used through Baltimore. Amtrak has different seating requirements, of course, so I figure they’d increase capacity to up to about 100 vs. about 84 for Amfleet coaches.

    • Ocean Railroader

      Amtrak needs to add more double deck cars in that it would make double the money and the Acela is Amtrak’s main cash cow so if I where Amtrak I would borrow money to set up the Axelas with double deck cars so that they would take in double the money and could easly pay back the cost of buying the new double deck cars. I also don’t see why they can’t dig out sections of the tunnels at Penn Station to allow trains that are double lenght to get in it.

      • Anon256

        Enlarging deep-bored tunnels can be almost as expensive as building new ones. At the very least it would require shutting down the tunnels for construction, which is of course not possible when they are the only way for mainline trains to get in or out of NYC from the west.

      • mulad

        Unfortunately, double-deck cars don’t double capacity, because a large chunk of the space is taken up by stairwells. NJT/Bombardier say that the ones at the top of this article increase capacity by 15-30%.

        • Adirondacker12800

          The average over the whole fleet, bandied about on the foamer forums, is 20 percent more than a single level. It has much more standing room. The aisles are wider and the seating is 2 by 2 instead of 2 by 3 as on the single levels.

      • Nathanael

        The existing tunnels are not tunnels, they’re immersed iron tubes at the bottom of the river. Very very hard to enlarge (though it was done in London on the Waterloo & City Line back in the 19th Century).

  • Nexis4Jersey

    Maybe the PA could use the 3 billion to extend the PATH to EWR , thus giving a new way of getting to and form Manhattan. Also extending the PATH to Jersey Gardens / Port Elizabeth and to Midtown Elizabeth thus giving a new route for Hundreds of Thousands of people who use the Buses and Railways. There are ways of reducing the massive surge into Manhattan , enhancing the PATH which is planned is one of them. Once you have the PATH upgraded build a Light Rail network feeding into that which is partially planned. That would only cost 6-8 billion or less depending on how much New ROW is needed.

  • Peter Laws

    Ha, a private company – that’s funny! A private company built the existing tunnels and ran the service for another 58 years before merging with another private company and promptly going out of business. Big news for you: moving people doesn’t pay.

    • Kevin

      This is about the decision-making process. With politicians in charge, return-on-investment calculations are replaced with fanciful, gold-plated, featherbedded, patronage larded projects.

      Taking seats out and through running are obvious winners except it fails to pay off the proper political constituencies.

      Building a cavern and not connecting to Penn Tracks is an obvious loser, except to the political class with $9billion of fare-payer, port-user, and tax-payer dollars to burn.

    • Joe Clark

      You’re ignoring the context of what happened.

      The rail system worked reasonably well until the government over-burdened the industry with regulation and taxation, then started directly competing with railways by financing, building, and operating airports/ATC and roads, and made them available at well below cost to users.

      I understand the railroad barons weren’t nice people, but the answer wasn’t to destroy the rail system (which can never be rebuilt), it was to bring it under public ownership.

  • Peter Laws

    Now for my real comment, which I’d have posted much earlier but *work* got in the way.

    Acela: No cars are available to add to those sets. Amtrak knows they are too short but new coaches would have to be custom-built. Since the 20 trains that exist will likely be the only ones ever built of that type, we’re stuck. What they can do is run longer trains of conventional “Amfleet” cars. The company got ARRA money and is rebuilding cars that had been sidelined due to needed maintenance or wreck damage that the company could not afford to do.

    NJT/standees: Not a bad idea. Remember, though, that a lot of folks probably have much longer rides on NJT’s trains than those Parisiens do on the RER. That said, there are probably already standees by the time you hit Seacaucus Transfer anyway, so sacrificing a *few* seats to pack in more riders might be do-able. Expect a revolt.

    ARC: The main problem with this whole scenario is that the ARC plan in it’s current configuration is broken: It only goes to Macy’s! There is no connection to Penn nor to Grand Central. And given that it’s 20 stories below street level, there won’t be.

    This does nothing to help Amtrak and doesn’t do as much as you’d think for NJT, since it’s a dead-end terminal.

    As someone who lives in Flatland, I don’t mind my taxes paying for big transit projects in the Zoned Zone, but for god’s sake, have them make sense!

    The original plan, long before Governor Myopia was elected, had a connection to Penn with the possibility of a connection to GCT. That was a plan. Build that.

  • ChrisC

    Removing seats can remove capacity, but to me the benefit of ARC was increased service frequency. Packing more people per train isn’t going to give me any more options, or give me a shorter wait for the next train if I miss the last one.

    Look how frequent the service is on Metro North from Grand Central to White Plains. I salivate when I look at the schedule. It puts NJT to shame.

  • DBX

    Make no mistake about it; this problem is not going away. John Mica, the ranking Republican on the T&I committee, wants dedicated HSR in the NEC, just as his Democratic counterparts do. And the Penn Tunnels will at some point have to be taken out of service for maintenance. And, short of boring a 70 mile tunnel to Pennsylvania — tempting under the circumstances — New Jersey has to be part of the picture.

    Lengthening the heavy, metal fatigue-prone Acela trains is not realistic either.

    And there is no substitute for service frequency. In the end there has to be an interest in converting road use to transit. And more frequent service is an integral part of that picture. It’s a pity that NJT’s lack of corporate interest in market share led us to this situation in the first place.

    It may well be, therefore, that the model of block granting transportation funds to the states is broken. It is constitutionally possible, given current case law and precedent, to have the federal government create its own agency that deals with these problems directly. Think the Federal Aviation Administration. Maybe that’s the business model we will now need for producing the national transportation network we now need.

  • DBX

    One other suggestion; if the matching funds model is to survive, the federal government has to amend it in order to match state gas tax dollars. If the state won’t levy the money, it doesn’t get the matching funds. Fair? It would certainly give New Jersey, with the lowest gas tax of any non-oil producing state by far, something to ponder.

  • Loren Petrich

    I’ve seen some speculation that this project may be revived as some additional tunnels to Penn Station. That would add capacity across the Hudson River and save a LOT of money by connecting to an existing station.

  • Drewski

    The fundamental point is that New York is pretty much as good as transit gets in the US, and our very best status quo wouldn’t pass muster in much of Europe or Asia. It’s not that we don’t have the money to pay for a new crossing, or for dedicated HSR through Jersey for that matter. We’ve chosen not to make it a priority. This is another aspect of Christie’s I-hate-government tantrum, and assuming we start to pull out of this non-recession, there will be ever more commuters trying to get from Jersey to NYC. The trains are becoming so packed that they will hit capacity. Since there is no chance of creating a truly regional rail network in New York at this time, and parking will continue to cost a fortune, the only other possibility is more buses into Manhattan. The Port Authority Terminal is pretty packed on its own, and there’s really no way to have those buses circulating on surface streets. However, we know that Christie would very much like to pave more of New Jersey. Where are these cars supposed to go? ARC wasn’t perfect, but it was a major step forward; now there won’t be any relief even started for probably a decade or more. The hundreds of shuttle flights, and hundreds of thousands of drivers, whose transfer to rail would make for a strong investment case–nope, they’ll continue polluting, continue taking up valuable road space and airport gates, and the lack of adequate rail capacity will serve to stifle economic recovery and growth.

    • Adirondacker12800

      They hit capacity when MidTown Direct opened in the 1990s and surpassed it’s ridership predictions for a decade out within a few months of opening. That’s why there are standees as far out as Summit.

  • Is PATH at capacity yet? Could it be connected to Grand Central (or east-side acces) and run a bit more like a commuter train with through-running to increase capacity?

    Can road lanes be turned into rail lines?

    • PATH is inextensible. The 33rd Street terminal is hemmed by the subway on both sides as well as from below. The WTC terminal is a loop, and even if it weren’t, extending it would involve super-expensive tunneling under skyscrapers.

      Road lanes can be turned into rail lines at only one place: the GWB, with a connection to existing subway bellmouths. The road tunnels were built for cars, so their grade is far too steep for trains.

      • David Keddie

        It’s a pity that two of the three rail tunnels under the Hudson dead-end at the WTC and 33rd street. They do provide however a great deal of extra capacity for crossing the Hudson. I know many NJ transit riders who transfer at Newark to the PATH when headed to a destination downtown or in the village.

        Would it be possible to add greater frequency to the Penn station bound lines by connecting them to the PATH or Hoboken lines and sending new riders onto the PATH? To think more ambitiously, would it be possible to build a terminal at the WTC or underground in the village and route NJT trains directly through the PATH tunnels so as to avoid the transfer? Ultimately a through connection from Hoboken to LIRR in Brooklyn via a downtown station is desirable. At a minimum any of these plans could save the cost of an additional tunnel, and the fulton street transit center is even more at the heart of the subway system than Penn station or GCT, albeit far from the midtown office district. Are there obstacles I’m unaware of?

      • Peter Laws

        I believe you meant “subway hellmouth”.

        As for grades, I doubt that the grades are far too steep. The maximum grade in the Holland Tunnels appears to be 4%. This is well within the do-able range for light rail and subways. (http://is.gd/got5i)

        • David Keddie

          If the ARC tunnel project was politically infeasible, then any conversion of hyper-congested road lanes to transit, whether the grade is sufficient or not, is a political impossibility.

          • Peter Laws

            Absolutely! I was just commenting on the fact that the grade is do-able by (some) trains.

          • Quite: since the point of the cancellation was because otherwise a road widening project would have to be abandoned, because of the refusal to either adjust gas tax funding up or the roadworks that it is trying to fund down, for the duration of this state administration it seems like either either improvements that can be done on NJT’s own initiative, or projects that function to raid some form of transport funding for roadworks.

        • 4% is doable for light rail, but mainline trains usually need special adaptations for it. The normal ruling grade is around 2-3%, except for mountain railways and HSR.

          And the Lincoln Tunnel looks even steeper than 4%.

        • Nathanael

          I believe a major problem, apart from the grades on the road tunnels, is the sharp curves. Worse, the curves are combined with the grades. The Holland Tunnel wouldn’t satisfy modern road building standards let alone railway standards.

      • Anon256

        NJ-ARP thinks PATH is not inextensible, and proposes extending it from WTC to City Hall to continue as the Lexington Avenue Local. The short new tunnel required would not pass under any existing skyscrapers. Of course the political obstacles to this are far greater than for something like Penn Station through-running, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t technically feasible.

        • Nathanael

          It was a good idea but it appears to be just a little bit too late as too much of the area has been rebuilt on top of the connection location now. :-(

    • Adirondacker12800

      Yes PATH is at capacity. It carries a quarter of million people on the average weekday. 3 minute or less headways during the rush hours. No you can’t turn car lanes into railways. They are beyond capacity now and have been for decades.

      • A quarter of a million is about the same as one station on the two-track portion of the Chuo Line. Color me unimpressed.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Try to get on a morning rush hour PATH train in Newark just after a Raritan Valley line train dumps 1000 passengers onto the platform on track 1.

          • David Keddie

            Isn’t the PATH in the process of adding more rolling stock and expanding their trains from 8-cars to 10? Isn’t that supposed to allow greater frequency, perhaps every two minutes? Surely two tunnels under the Hudson are capable of carrying far more than 250,000 passengers with the right equipment. If one bus lane at the Lincoln tunnel can manage 315,000 passengers then each track of rail should be able to exceed that.

        • AlexB

          The total number of passengers in the peak hour determines capacity constraints, not total number of passengers per day.

          • Tokyo has a large centralized CBD with a strong am peak. The two-track Chuo Rapid Line peaks at 90,000 people per direction per hour, nearly three times as much as the Lexington Line, and more than each of the four PATH tubes carries per day.

  • Stewart Clamen

    TSTC’s post-mortem is a call for adding transit capacity in the Lincoln Tunnel: additional bus lanes and expansion of the Port Authority Bus Terminal

    http://www.tstc.org/press/2010/102710_NJ_statement.html

    • Is TSTC calling for an additional tube at the Lincoln for buses? Or converting an existing tunnel lane? I coudln’t tell from their post-mortem.

      • David Keddie

        Perhaps a new bus terminal at Hoboken to feed into the PATH would be more cost-effective and or politically possible than taking another Lincoln tunnel lane for buses and expanding the Port Authority, let alone building another road tunnel dedicated to buses.

      • Stewart Clamen

        It calls for dedicating additional lanes at rush hour for buses.

        Re: Hoboken. Isn’t PATH already at capacity?

        • David Keddie

          PATH is congested, but that is more due to a lack of rolling stock (as I understand it) than any hard limitation of tunnel space. PATH has two double-track tunnels (technically four single-track) crossing the Hudson and only carries ~250,000 riders a day. If the RER in Paris manages over a million with two tracks and the Lexington Avenue line averages 1.3 million with four tracks then surely PATH can handle more with appropriate investment and efficient management. Moreover, PATH was originally connected with both branches of the NJT rail system.

          No doubt I’m missing various challenges but it would seem that with three double-track tunnels crossing the Hudson the real solution is not so much another tunnel as better connections, through-running at Penn Station, and a terminal at the Fulton Street Transit center in the short term, through-running to LIRR in the long-term. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable could indicate whether I’m missing something or if the failure to integrate PATH and NJT is just another reflection of political turf battles.

          • Stewart Clamen

            PATH still connects to Hoboken Stn and Penn Newark, so most NJT lines (the exceptions being the Midtown Directs?) connect to it.

            Have you ridden PATH? I don’t know the technical details but it appears to have to go very slow at times (for switching reasons?) and is very curvy besides.

          • David Keddie

            I’ve ridden the PATH, though normally I go straight into Penn Station. You may be right that the system has some limitation due to switching reasons or curves, I can’t speak to that. I worry though given the failure of NJT and the MTA to move to through-running and other obvious cheap improvements, that a similar foolish interagency lack of cooperation is preventing creative solutions through integrating or better coordinating PATH and NJT.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They are running trains every three minutes through the tunnels during peak now. There’s some room for improvement but they aren’t going to be able to accommodate anticipated demand with PATH.

            The stations served by Midtown Direct trains also have service to Hoboken where passengers can transfer to PATH or ferries.

  • Andrew

    Kill the underground station at the end of the ARC tunnel and connect the lines to existing Penn station. That ought to make the whole project affordable even if New Jersey doesn’t contribute a cent.

    • Alan

      No, Christie doesn’t want it. Point blank. He’s simply not interested in entertaining the idea of spending one cent of NJ money on it.

      • jim

        There’s an interesting dynamic going on. There was a story in the Star-Ledger (I think) that Christie is talking up a “New Jersey/Amtrak collaboration” to build a tunnel. In his mind, I’m sure, it’s more like the owl and panther sharing a pie than a true collaboration, but he’s throwing the suggestion out there.

        Canceling ARC has left him with two problems:

        (1) the $600M “hole to nowhere”, the Palisades tunnel, which was contracted for (fixed price, so it has to be paid) before the cancellation. The Democrats have already held a press conference at its mouth. It can become a symbol of Republican mismanagement of infrastructure. A $9B tunnel to Macy’s basement may be a boondoggle, but it’s at least useful. A $600M hole to nowhere is just waste.

        (2) a $350M bill from FTA for disbursements they made prior to the cancellation. They want that money back. Since for Christie it was always all about the Benjamins, he really doesn’t want to give that money back. He wants to spend it on roads.

        A new tunnel project with Amtrak as the executive agent and a budget for the remaining work at or below $5.65B (New Jersey contributes the Palisades tunnel and all the planning and mitigation work that’s already been done; FTA New Starts ponys up $2.65B, the rest of their $3B commitment; PANYNJ contributes the $3B they were always going to spend) would solve both problems. And cost overruns could be thrown on Amtrak.

        It could happen.

  • AlexB

    Some thoughts on this topic:

    – You’d think the project could be adjusted to a cheaper option: Connecting the original tracks of Penn and Grand Central and trying to realize gains in capacity by through-running trains as fast as possible, with minimal dwell time at Penn and Grand Central. This could not cost nearly as much as the ARC as envisioned as there is no brand new subterranean train station.

    – NJ Transit is expensive. Part of the reason is related to the idea from this post that everybody supposedly deserves a seat. If NJ Transit can increase capacity by removing seats, that means they can provide the same service more cheaply. Perhaps they could arrange a cheaper monthly pass only good on trains with no seats. That way everybody saves money and you can squeeze more people into the existing trains.

    – Other comments have noted PATH has a ridership of 250,000. I wonder if this could be extended along the existing NJ Transit lines to capture some of the riders closer to NYC and shift some riders to the PATH from NJ Transit. For example, extend the PATH to Paterson and maybe convert the whole line to transit.

    – Given how many buses come through the Lincoln Tunnel into the PABT, I wonder if dedicated lanes could be used for the Holland Tunnel and some area downtown converted to a high capacity bus station where buses drop off their passengers and immediately head back to Jersey.

    – Christie’s term is up in three years. This is a way off, but it’s not a whole generation away as others have claimed. Maybe this project could be put on hold instead of canceled until we have someone more reasonable in charge. Three years is not that big of deal when it comes to projects of this scale.

    Even though a new tunnel is the most effective way to add capacity, I wish people would stop talking like there is simply no way to get any more people across the Hudson until the new tunnel is built.

    • David Keddie

      Some thoughts on your useful observations:
      -As I understand it, the reason for building a deep-bore tunnel to a deep terminal was to avoid the complicated city regulations involved with a cut-and-cover tunnel into Penn Station. Evidently it’s easier to spend billions of dollars on a sub-optimal solution than to get the various agencies to cooperate.

      -One of the main cost drivers for NJTransit is employees paid well above market rates with heavy pension costs. One example from my hometown of Princeton is our small branch line off the NEC called the dinky. NJT wants to rip up the line and replace it with a bus lane because it’s too expensive to run. It’s too expensive not due to a lack of ridership but because the union rules require two conductors on a two-car train. Again, it’s easier to rip the line up and replace with a bus than to run NJT in a cost-efficient manner.

      -At the risk of giving great offense to everyone who reads this blog, Governor Christie is right that New Jersey cannot afford the likely cost overruns of the ARC project. New Jersey has the highest local and state tax burden of any state, a burden high enough to compromise overall tax revenue by encouraging wealth to leave the state. More importantly, the pension fund for state workers is desperately underfunded, will run out of money in 2019 requiring 32% of state revenue starting the next year. Even if Christie wanted to raise taxes he was elected by a full-on tax revolt where even many liberal academics in Princeton (my circles) are behind him. The best hope for New Jersey being able to fund transit improvements in the future is if Christie is successful in reigning in the cost of public employees and resolving the massive unfunded long-term pension obligations.

      • Don

        As a former NJ resident who flinches every time he thinks of NJ property tax, I think you have it nailed.

        NJT labor costs might not be the only expensive thing about NJT rail. They are paying huge sums of money for new locomotives and cars as if they have a printing press in the bottom floor of their Newark HQ. $7M for an electric locomotive that will only make one or perhaps two 100 mile round trips a day? That’s more than Amtrak is spending on their new electric fleet (and they are no penny-pinchers, either!)

        They have built new stations of monumental proportions. Secaucus Transfer and the Newark Airport stations appear to my eye to be monuments to someone’s rather large ego.

        Instead of seeing how little they can spend to get the job done, they seem to be finding ways to spend as much as possible. No wonder, it’s other people’s money.

      • Adirondacker12800

        More importantly, the pension fund for state workers is desperately underfunded, will run out of money in 2019 requiring 32% f state revenue starting the next year.

        How much of that is because they underfunded in past years? How much of it is due the legerdemain of the Whitman administration and their bond swap deal that seriously underperformed when the markets tanked?

        • David Keddie

          It was a bipartisan disaster, starting with Jim Florio, compounded by Whitman and continued by everyone since.

          http://money.cnn.com/2009/05/12/news/economy/benner_pension.fortune/index.htm

          California, New York and Illinois among others face similar financial disasters. Andrew Cuomo and Jerry Brown are even running on a platform of fighting the public employee unions. It was too easy to win votes by promising early retirement and large pensions while raiding the pension funds while the stock market did well. We have a public question on the ballot in NJ this election that will prevent the state government from raiding the unemployment fund for state workers, who now face automatic tax increase because it was raided prior to the recession.

          We need NJTransit to be separated from political control and expected to be run as a business for a profit, with appropriate incentive subsides where needed, similar to the SNCF in France. Otherwise it will wither on the vine no matter how much demand exists.

  • By my count there are six rail tracks under the Hudson River – 2 Amtrak/NJ Transit tracks, and two PATH lines with two tracks each. So the ARC project would have increased capacity by one third, not “double” as repeatedly stated by Mr Freeman and many others. Perhaps there are opportunities for using the four PATH tracks better?

    • Nathanael

      Perhaps, but the PATH tunnels are very small-bore. This means it’s impractical to run the PATH trains much further into New Jersey than they already go. The WTC-Newark trains run about as frequently as is reasonable, and definitely as fast as the curves will allow. They are being lengthened and signalling improved to allow slight improvements.

      More might be done with the 33rd St. branch.

  • JSBertram

    I saw these ‘standing saddle seats’ a few weeks ago. Although they were designed for short-haul airlines, they might be adapted for short-haul (less than one hour) commuter / intercity train trips.

    Perhaps a new generation of BiLevel or MultiLevel cars can have these on the lower deck for short-haul passengers, and regular seats on the upper deck for long-haul passengers (with appropriate pricing discounts for the short-haul passengers)

    Photo gallery from: http://www.relax.com.sg
    http://www.relax.com.sg/relax/media/455894/New_aircraft_standing_seat.html

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