Hudson River Tunnel for High Speed Rail
"proponents of the new tunnel said it would be an improvement over the previous project because it would provide access to Pennsylvania Station in Midtown to high-speed trains running between Boston and Washington"
February 7, 2011 New York Times
With One Plan for a Hudson Tunnel Dead, Senators Offer Another Option
By Pattrick McGeehan
New Jersey’s two Democratic senators, Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, have been trying to revive the idea of a trans-Hudson train tunnel ever since Gov. Chris Christie upset them by halting construction on the one that New Jersey Transit started to build last year.
On Monday morning, the senators lined up with Amtrak officials to unveil their plan for a new rail link between New Jersey and New York City.
“Simply put, Amtrak isn’t accepting the status quo, and neither will I,” Mr. Lautenberg said during a news conference a block from New Jersey Transit’s headquarters in downtown Newark.
No representatives of New Jersey Transit or Governor Christie’s office spoke at the announcement, nor did any representatives from New York. Mr. Lautenberg said neither he nor Mr. Menendez had broached the idea with the governor.
But later in Trenton, Mr. Christie, a Republican, said the proposal had vindicated his decision to kill the previous project because New Jersey would ultimately benefit from a tunnel project led by a federal agency.
“I’m happy at the appropriate time to sit down with the folks who are in charge of it to see what role, if any, the State of New Jersey might be able to play to help it along,” Mr. Christie said. But, he added, “If they asked me for a check today, the answer is no.”
The proposal that the senators and Amtrak officials outlined was preliminary, and they acknowledged that they had not arranged any of the local or federal financing that the project would require.
At an estimated cost of $13.5 billion, the Amtrak tunnel plan would be even more expensive than the one Mr. Christie scrapped late last year, saying it would cost the state too much. But the proponents of the new tunnel said it would be an improvement over the previous project because it would provide access to Pennsylvania Station in Midtown to high-speed trains running between Boston and Washington, as well as commuter trains from New Jersey.
The previous tunnel project had been estimated to cost $8.7 billion and would have doubled the capacity for commuter trains crossing the river. The federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had each committed $3 billion, but most, if not all, of that money is no longer available, people involved in the planning said.
President Obama has pressed for improving the nation’s rail system so that it can accommodate faster trains. In his State of the Union speech last month, the president set a goal of creating access to high-speed rail for 80 percent of Americans within 25 years.
Amtrak officials said Monday that they would seek $50 million from Mr. Obama’s impending federal budget to pay engineers to study the feasibility of the new tunnel plan. Amtrak’s chief executive, Joseph H. Boardman, said Monday that Amtrak was willing to take the lead on the new proposal even though Republican leaders in Congress wanted the agency to yield the development of high-speed rails to others.
The Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington is generally considered the area where high-speed trains would draw the most riders. But the infrastructure along that corridor is well past its expected life. The only train tunnels connecting New York City to points west are two single-track tubes under the Hudson that are 100 years old.
Amtrak’s proposed project would supplement those tunnels with another pair that would carry trains in and out of an expanded Penn Station. The new tracks to run through them would follow essentially the same path between the river and Newark as those that were planned by New Jersey Transit. But the transit agency’s plan called for the tracks to end at a new station deep below 34th Street near Macy’s flagship store.
Amtrak’s proposal would allow for an additional 10 Amtrak trains and 20 commuter trains hourly during peak periods.
Transit advocates in New Jersey applauded the senators for trying to resurrect the tunnel idea. But in a joint statement, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Environment New Jersey and the Sierra Club said because a new tunnel was “at least a decade away,” Mr. Christie should devote some resources to improving bus service for commuters.
If the high-speed tunnel were built, Penn Station would have to be expanded one block to the south between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and various properties would have to be seized.
The Port Authority had already acquired rights to three parcels of land on the Far West Side of Manhattan before Mr. Christie stopped the other tunnel project.
In early September, just a week before Mr. Christie called a halt on new spending for the project, the Port Authority paid $95.5 million to lease a lot at the west end of 30th Street for 10 years. It is owned by Georgetown Company, a development firm run by Joseph B. Rose, who was the city’s planning director when Rudolph W. Giuliani was mayor.
About $610 million had been spent on the old tunnel plan, known as Access to the Region’s Core, or the ARC Tunnel. About $180 million of that total went toward acquisition of property and easements, said Paul Wyckoff, a spokesman for New Jersey Transit.
An additional $250 million of it was spent on design and engineering, he said.