Paula Wallis, TunnelTalk
- Propelled by its future high speed rail plans, Amtrak seized the opportunity to revive a new rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan three months after New Jersey canceled a similar project due to potential cost overruns.
Gateway alternative route through New Jersey and New York
- The national railway picked up the derailed ARC (Access to the Regions Core) project and is retooling it to capitalize on President Obama's commitment to a high-speed rail system that connects 80% of the country's population.
- Amtrak President Joseph Boardman, along with New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, outlined the basic framework for the Gateway Project in a news conference in February (Fig 1). The rail connection follows generally the alignment of the ARC project that would have carried New Jersey Transit commuter trains in a new Hudson River tunnel crossing and into an expanded Penn Station in Manhattan (Fig 2).
- Amtrak is proposing to spend $50 million to begin preliminary engineering and design on the parallel rail tunnels that would significantly increase commuter train capacity. The project would allow NJ Transit to add 13 more trains per peak hour into New York City and eight more Amtrak trains per hour, bringing the total number of trains to 33 and 20 respectively.
- "When the ARC Tunnel was cancelled, it was clear to me that we couldn't just throw up our hands and wait years to find another solution," said Senator Lautenberg. "I immediately went to work looking for new ways to get cars off our roads and expand rail access from New Jersey neighborhoods to New York City office buildings. Amtrak answered the call and is spearheading a project that will help New Jersey commuters and also expand intercity and high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor."
- "We don't like to compare the two projects," said Cliff Cole, Amtrak's spokesperson, "however, ARC was designed to run New Jersey Transit trains.
ARC alignment through New Jersey and New York
- Gateway expands capacity and maneuverability for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains, which we certainly consider a benefit and are hopeful the project will move forward to completion."
- Amtrak projects that the entire Gateway Tunnel project could be completed in 2020 at an estimated cost of $13.5 billion. The investment would be the first step in Amtrak's $117.5 billion plan to upgrade the entire Northeast Corridor to accommodate train speeds of up to 220mph and bring travel times between Washington and Boston down to under 3.5 hours (Fig 3).
- The new Amtrak tunnels would connect to the new Moynihan Station as well as to a new Penn Station South of the existing New York Penn station (Fig 4). The Moynihan Station connects the historic Farley Post Office Building with Penn Station, expanding train and passenger capacity at the busiest station in the nation. The long delayed Moynihan Station broke ground in October 2010 and includes new entrances to Penn Station through the Farley building as well as a wider and longer west end concourse, more escalators and other infrastructure work.
- The Gateway project also includes a total replacement and expansion of the 100 year-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River between Kearny and Secaucus.
Proposed northeast high-speed rail corridor improvements
- There would also be significant infrastructure improvements in New Jersey, including expanding track capacity from what is essentially a two-track railroad to an operationally superior four-track configuration between Newark and New York Penn Stations.
- Unlike ARC that would have terminated in a new deep station under 34th Avenue and was incompatible with the existing rail network, Gateway Tunnel trains would run directly into Penn Station. A new Penn Station South would serve as a terminus for New Jersey Transit, freeing up space in the existing Penn Station for Amtrak trains running on to Boston.
- The Gateway project would reduce the number of hourly ARC commuter trains from 25 to 13 and eliminate connections to the Bergen and Passaic lines, but the direct connection to Penn Station allows Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains to share the link, eliminating a future third Hudson tunnel crossing planned by Amtrak.
- "The Hudson tunnel crossing was in Amtrak's 2030 masterplan," said Cole. "This is an opportunity to move that goal forward to an estimated completion date of 2021."
- At an estimated $13.5 billion, the Gateway project is about $5 billion more than the estimated $8.5 billion ARC program and at present no funding is available for it or the $50 million needed to start the preliminary engineering studies.
- "We have included the $50 million in our 2011-2012 budget request and are waiting to see what allocation we receive," said Cole. "If the appropriation request comes through we estimate the preliminary engineering and design phase will take four years." Cole added that it was too early to say how much, if any, of the planning and design work completed for ARC could be included in the Gateway plans.
Proposed Penn Station expansion
- Amtrak may have a tough time selling the plan on Capitol Hill where a Republican lead Congress is committed to cutting federal spending. New competition has also arrived on the scene since the cancellation of ARC. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is endorsing a proposed extension of the City’s No 7 Line from its current terminus on Manhattan's West Side, under the Hudson River to the Lautenberg Station in Secaucus, New Jersey and a connection to New Jersey Transit trains. The extension, unlike the Gateway or ARC proposals, would give New Jersey commuters direct access to Grand Central Station and Queens.
- Supporters say the No 7 Line extension would also double the number of trains between the two states during peak hours and at a fraction of the cost of other proposals. At an estimated $5.3 billion, the extension would not require costly condemnation proceedings or extensive tunneling under Manhattan’s pricey real estate.
ARC cancellation hits industry hard - TunnelTalk, Nov 2010
California calls for high-speed rail collaborators - TunnelTalk, Feb 2011
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